It happened very quickly and although many skilled hands were involved trying to save him, there was nothing they could do. The tests all showed normal physiology and blood-work, when he was still alive, and the autopsy was inconclusive.
This is how we lost our boy. Most of you know Crosby (A.K.A. The Hamburgler) as the forever-optimistic Berner, gazing longingly at his hamburger. You should also know he was strong, healthy, and a box-of-rocks. Nothing slowed him down. We expected to see 12-13 years out of him, based on his health of his first 9-1/2 years. Within 3 days he was reduced to a shadow of his former self, and no one knew why.
Our friends, who are also our vets, insisted it presented as a neurological issue probably caused by eating something toxic. We knew Cros well enough to know he wasn't a dog that picked up stuff and ate it. We knew where he had been, and who he was with. We were absolutely sure he didn't eat anything. We were wrong…kind of.
We (and our vet) are now 99% sure Crosby died after ingesting toxic Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria) from a small lake we brought him to the day before this all started. It is the same lake our dogs swim in all the time. We break biscuits in pieces, and toss them far into the water, and our dogs love to swim after them. If you've ever seen dogs trying to get a floating biscuit, you know they get a fair amount of water with each try. Think bobbing-for-biscuits.
Blue-green algae can form in any body of water that isn't moving, but it seems to like shallow pond-like areas. This summer has been particularly hot with very little rain, which is perfect for breeding this algae. There are tons of different kinds of algae and most are non-toxic. Strains of blue-green algae can produce almost a dozen different types of toxins. Once the toxin is ingested, there is nothing to do for your animal except support care. If there were a test that would've told our vet what toxin was attacking Crosby's central nervous system, it wouldn't have changed the outcome.
Crosby had started to pant and drool profusely. Big puddles. He was also in respiratory distress, and wouldn't lie-down comfortably. When I was lying on the floor with him, he peed and peed and didn't even know it. It just leaked out of him. When he got up to walk, he would stumble and wobble. Not weak, just drunk-like. Also, if you've ever seen a dog with epilepsy, you may have seen “fly-biting” episodes where they look and react to something that isn't there. He did some of this also. Then, he was fine. Then he wasn't.
This came and went for about 24-36 hours, and when he was fine, he was fine. Good old Crosby. We went on a walk, peed on stuff, met some dogs. But then he was back at it, in a short time. Things got bad very quickly. Every panel, every test; blood-work, x-rays, ultra-sounds, etc. came back negative. He had a normal, strong pulse and heartbeat. Then he crashed, and died quickly.
I would have waved-off a second hand story about someone's dog that died after swimming in a toxic pond. Please don't. I've done the research. It happens all the time, and has for years. There is nothing they can do. I've spoken to the MN Pollution Control Agency, and while they know it is out there (Crystal Lake in the north metro is closed because of it, at the time this article was written), all they can do is track it. I was told of two more dog deaths in the previous few weeks of writing this article.
Click on the links that refer you to the Center of Disease Control, World Health Org, MnPCA and others, to read for yourself. There are many pictures of the different forms of blue-green algae, and many look like the normal algae blooms we are used to seeing in ponds and small lakes. The algae can come and go in a matter of days. It can blow to the other side of the lake, and blow back again. Even if your dogs don't drink the water with the algae in it, the toxin can get on their coats while swimming and they can lick it off.
It was so sad to see our healthy boy die so quickly and easily. Our dogs love to swim. They will continue to do so, but we will be much more careful and stay away from algae areas, and shallow ponds. If it doesn't look good or smell good, stay out.In memory of CH Ravenswald Lover Boy (1997-2007)