With the use of state parks at an all-time high, it’s important for pet owners to be aware of hidden dangers in freshwater that may be hazardous to their pets.
While it may be tempting to let Fido drink from a pond or lake or to even let him take a dip, you may be doing your pet more harm than good — especially if blue-green algae is present in the water — according to Josh Swartley, Assistant Regional Manager, State Parks Region 4, which covers the eastern portion of the state for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
“One good thing to do is to protect your animal is don’t let it drink from an untreated water source such as a pond or lake,” said Swartley. “It’s easy to prevent by keeping the pet on a leash and don’t allow them easy access to the water.”
Hazardous algal blooms are toxic to pets who either drink or swim in contaminated water, Swartley added. However, Swartley noted, there were no known problems at the park this summer and the bloom was minimal.
“The worst time of the year is June through August but it can go later if the conditions are right, so it can be outside that time period as well,” Swartley noted.
Still, the public should be advised of the dangers present and staff members from the DCNR and the departments of Health and Environmental Protection have collaborated on the creation of collateral materials in print and electronic formats warning of the dangers of algal blooms.
Information posted to DEP’s website notes: “Harmful algal blooms (HABS) occur when Cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae, grow in large, dense populations. HABS have been observed worldwide including in Lake Erie and other Pennsylvania waters and can occur almost anywhere: lakes, ponds, stormwater retention basins, rivers, streams, or reservoirs.”
Swartley said that while many types of algae and other living organisms thrive in freshwater and are an integral part of the food chain systems, some plants like blue-green algae present a threat to non-aquatic animals like dogs.
“The level of toxicity depends on the level of bacteria within the bloom,” Swartley said. “When you have warm water and then nutrients dumped into a water system, usually by stormwater runoff from agricultural production or from fertilized lawns, this tends to supercharge the algae and makes it grow that much quicker.”
Although blue-green algae tends to grow in calm waters, it can also be present in faster moving water, hence the advice from Swartley to always tote along potable water for Toto when going for a walk in the park.
As a courtesy to park visitors, warning signs about the dangers of algal blooms are posted at kiosks throughout parks that contain bodies of freshwater. At parks like Memorial State Park near Fort Indiantown Gap in East Hanover Township, warnings are posted in various locations.
“The information is at all the stations and kiosks throughout the park – the lower lot, middle lot, and boat launch,” Swartley said, “and are posted in areas that people frequent and in proximity to where people will walk on a trail or get access to the lake.”
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