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A devastated pet owner has told how his beloved bull dog died within 90 minutes of a walk from suspected blue green algae poisoning.
After merely paddling along the shore of Loch Awe, ‘healthy’ seven-year-old Delilah fell rapidly ill; suffering symptoms such as drooling, fitting, muscle twitching and struggling to breathe, said owner George Walker, from Edinburgh.
Despite medical assistance and resuscitation attempts from close friends Blair Smith and Dr Paul Mills, a senior nurse and consultant, the ‘people-loving’ Old Tyme Bull Dog was declared dead at Oban Veterinary Surgery, having believed to have lost consciousness in the car.
Mr Walker said the water was clear and Delilah did not swim in it.
He has now written an open letter to tourism businesses based around the loch imploring them to do more to notify pet owners and parents of the potential risks, and to encourage councils to put up more warning signs.
Mr Walker said he had never been made aware of the algae having visited the same hotel with different dogs ‘multiple times’, in spite of a previous dog death at Loch Awe in June 2019.
Mr Walker said he was advised after the incident of a sign in the hotel foyer but believes many guests with pets and luggage would easily miss it on arrival after a long journey.
Mr Walker said: ‘What upsets me the most is it was completely predictable and completely avoidable. It may well only be ‘a small risk’ – as was said to me – but a one in a thousand risk is a small one unless your dog is the one.’
‘I am not trying to blame anyone. The hotels can’t be held responsible for the water in the lochs, but they do have a duty of care to their guests and their pets.
‘My message would be ‘be responsible’ – actively tell dog owners that there is this risk – being passive just isn’t enough.’
In response, The Ardanaiseig Hotel said it had done more to highlight the issue to guests than had ‘ever been asked’.
A spokesperson said: ‘The loss of a loved pet is such a sad event. We sympathise with Mr Walker greatly and continue to offer our condolences.
‘We are upset at the loss of the beloved pet of one of our guests, especially at a location where many of our staff are also enthusiastic dog owners.
‘We try as far as possible to advise guests on environmental issues, such as algae bloom on the loch.
‘In this instance we placed a sign advising dog owners of a potential risk, although there was no such warning from SEPA (the Scottish Environment Protection Agency) or the local authority who are responsible for monitoring Loch Awe.’
SEPA said it had informed Argyll and Bute Council so signs could be put up to notify the public.
Argyll and Bute Council said: ‘When we are made aware of possible blue/green algae blooms, investigations are carried out and, where blooms are found to be present, warning signs are placed at the scene. It is not possible to tell which algae do or do not produce toxins simply by their appearance. Laboratory analysis is needed for this. Therefore, it is advisable to regard all algal scums as potentially toxic.’
Toxic blooms can quickly mushroom in humid weather and can be fatal to dogs – even if they don’t swim through it – which Delilah did not, said Mr Walker.
Poisoning often results in fatal liver failure and there is no cure for the toxins produced by the bacteria, although if caught early enough, vets can try to make dogs sick to flush the toxins from the body, according to experts.
Vet Julie McGlynn, of Oban Veterinary Surgeons, said it was strongly suspected blue green algae was the cause and that the bloom had been reported to SEPA.
She said pet owners should be aware that the algae could occur at any loch or body of standing water after warm and sunny spells of weather.
In terms of the risk, the effects on dogs could be ‘completely random,’ she said, with different types of toxins absorbed through the skin and neurological symptoms sometimes evident, as well as liver failure.
The UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology also has a ‘Bloomin Algae’ App.