State Departments of Agriculture and Health issue blue-green algae advisory

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Department of Agriculture - Animal Health Division, in conjunction with the North Dakota Department of Health, are advising the public to protect livestock and pets from coming in contact with or swallowing blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria.

“We are aware of cattle deaths in Sheridan County where algae was visible on the water surface where cattle were drinking,” Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. “Livestock producers should consult with their private veterinarians or county agents to see if treatment of water sources or tanks is necessary.”

Goehring said the toxin hasn't been confirmed yet, but the veterinary practitioner investigating the case said the clinical signs exhibited by the cattle were consistent with blue-green algae toxicosis.

The advisory is to remind people these blooms are more common in North Dakota in late summer, but it only takes a few hot days to cause the overwintering organisms to become active and bloom. Blue-green algae normally can be found in many lakes and pasture watering holes in the state. Under certain conditions, the blue-green algae can grow into blooms and produce toxins.

According to the state health department, blue-green algae blooms can produce poisonous cyanotoxins. These toxins have no known antidotes. People, livestock or other animals that swallow water containing a harmful algae bloom can become ill. If livestock producers suspect blue-green algae toxicosis, they should contact their veterinarian.

The Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture - Animal Health Division, recommend these steps to avoid exposure to cyanotoxins: 

  • Don't swim, water ski or boat in areas where the water is discolored or where you see foam, scum or mats of green or blue-green algae on the water.
  • If you do accidentally swim in water that might have a cyanobacteria bloom, rinse off with fresh water as soon as possible.
  • Don't let pets or livestock swim in or drink from areas where the water is discolored or where you see foam, scum or mats of algae on the water.
  • If pets (especially dogs) swim in scummy water, rinse them off immediately – do not let them lick the algae (and toxins) off their fur.
  • Don't irrigate lawns or golf courses with pond water that looks scummy or smells bad.