Eugene dog's death a warning to pet owners

Eugene dog's death a warning to pet owners
Kuta Ku (above left) is the first confirmed canine fatality from toxic blue-green algae. The state routinely issues warnings about algae blooms, but not all waterways are monitored.

ELKTON, Ore. - Porter Cable was a spirited, defiant puppy.

Kuta Ku was a therapy dog, who brought comfort to dozens of people outside his family.

Both dogs from Eugene, Ore., died last summer after visiting Elk Creek in Douglas County, and scientists later confirmed that Kuta Ku was the first known dog death in Oregon due to a toxic algae bloom.

"If our dogs died so others are warned, it makes it a bit easier to take," their owner, Shay Casey, told KVAL News last year, "but just a bit, we miss them so much."

In 2009, Oregon Public Health issued 21 health advisories due to cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, because of the potential for exposure to toxins -- a 50 percent increase over the year prior.

With a warmer forecast on the horizon for Memorial Day, state health officials want to remind the public about the hazards of algae blooms.

"As folks head out for the holiday weekend and throughout the summer, we want people who use Oregon's lakes, reservoirs and other fresh waters for recreation to enjoy these areas, but to take precautions if they see an algae bloom," said Jennifer Ketterman, coordinator of the Oregon Public Health Harmful Algae Bloom Surveillance (HABS) program. "We advise people to avoid swallowing or inhaling water droplets from algae-affected water and to avoid skin contact."

Not all algae are dangerous, but some species can produce toxins that pose a health threat to people and animals that come in contact with them, according to Ketterman.

Skin irritation or rash is the most commonly reported health effect. Symptoms could also include diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, fainting, numbness, dizziness and paralysis.

Children and pets are most vulnerable, and dogs can fall ill almost immediately after ingesting waters affected by toxic algae.

That is what happened to Porter Cable and Kuta Ku.

After the dogs explored Elk Creek on a fishing trip, they got violently ill. 

Porter Cable was vomiting, panting and having seizures. He died before his owner could get him to the car. 

Kuta Ku, a 10-year-old husky, died on the way to the vet.

No warning had been issued for the area, but the state program relies on water that is routinely monitored.

"Because only a fraction of Oregon's waters are routinely monitored for algae blooms, we advise people to be watchful when they are exploring the great outdoors," Ketterman said. "If waters are scummy or cloudy and blue-green, bright green, white or brownish-colored, treat them as potentially contaminated and stay out. It is especially important to keep children and pets from going into questionable water."

More information on harmful algae blooms — including what to look for, listing of previous locations with algae blooms and information about how to stay informed — can be found at www.healthoregon.org/hab or by calling (971) 673-0440.