Tamra Massey looked on smiling as her Australian shepherd, Fina, splashed around in a river near their Boerne, Texas, home last month.
"She was having the best time," Massey told TODAY.
But the happy moment was fleeting. Fifteen minutes after drying her off, Massey noticed Fina didn't look quite right.
"Her eyes got squinty and she threw up," Massey said.
The vomiting was followed by rapid seizures.Massey rushed the pup to the vet, but there was nothing they could do. Fina's diaphragm was paralyzed and she died less than an hour later.
In a heartbreaking Facebook post, Massey said that the dog was poisoned by toxic cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae. According to the Centers for Disease Control, harmful algal blooms or HABs, are found in fresh and salt water, and produce toxins that can cause damage to the brain, liver and kidneys of an animal. They are primarily a concern in hot summer months.
Similar cases have been reported in Georgia, and Austin, Texas. Last week, blue-green algae was discovered in three New York City parks.
In North Carolina, Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz are raising awareness about the lethal blooms after it killed their three dogs Abby, Harpo and Izzy earlier this month.
"We are gutted. I wish I could do today over," Martin wrote in an emotional Facebook post. "I would give anything to have one more day with them. Harpo and I had work to do, but now we will carry on in his memory and we will make sure every standing body of water has a warning sign."
Summer months are prime time for HABs.
“When you have very hot weather and stagnant water, it’s the perfect storm for blue-green algae,” Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian in Laguna Woods, California, told TODAY. “We’re seeing blooms pop up all over the United States.”
Because it's become so prevalent, Cruz recommends pet owners get a kiddie pool.
“Let them romp around in that,” she advised. “If you know where the water is coming from, you’re a lot safer.”
Dr. David Dorman a board-certified veterinary toxicologist says risk to dogs from harmful algae blooms in small bodies of water has increased in the last decade. The harmful algae blooms can grow in both fresh or marine water — and they aren’t always visible. Martin noted in her Facebook post that the pond where her dogs had played was “crystal clear.”
“We don’t always see the evidence of the blooms because the wind can break them up,” Dorman told TODAY. “But, the poison is still there.”
Despite the name, blue-green algae can range in color from brown to red, and they are typically spread across the water’s surface or on the shoreline, Dorman said. Sometimes the algae blooms have a bad odor.
Dorman, who is professor of toxicology at North Carolina State University, stressed the importance of paying attention to advisories. For instance, there are currently several “no-swim” warnings in New Jersey due to toxic algae.
“If it’s not safe for you to use the water, it’s not safe for your pets either,” Dorman said. "Dogs are the domestic animal most susceptible to cyanobacteria because they love to swim and drink from lakes and ponds, and will entire the water no matter what the smell or appearance."
Symptoms of exposure to cyanotoxins in animals can include excessive salivation, fatigue, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Symptoms in dogs can occur within minutes to hours of exposure, Austin officials said in the release. People or dogs who come in contact with toxic water should rinse off as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Massey hopes people will continue sharing her Facebook post. "I don't want this to happen to anyone else," she told TODAY. "As pet owners, we have a responsibility to one another."