New Brunswick

Cyanobacteria confirmed as cause of dog's sudden death after swim in St. John River

Cyanobacteria caused the death of a young dog that went swimming in the St. John River earlier this month, the province’s chief veterinarian confirmed.

16-week-old dog Flint died minutes after coming ashore on beach near Fredericton

Sandy Kitchen-Brewer is pictured with her dog Flint. The 16-week-old dog died after coming into contact with cyanobacteria in the St. John River near Fredericton. (Submitted by Sandy Kitchen-Brewer)

Cyanobacteria caused the death of a young dog that went swimming in the St. John River earlier this month, the province's chief veterinarian confirmed.

Sandy Kitchen-Brewer's 16-week-old dog, Flint, died minutes after coming to shore on a beach near Fredericton on July 13. Though at first the death had not been conclusively linked to cyanobacteria, it alarmed the public and led the province to caution against the harmful organisms. 

Dr. Jim Goltz, manager of the province's veterinary laboratory and pathology services, has now confirmed Flint's death was related to a neurotoxin produced by cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae.

A government spokesperson said Monday that a sample sent to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis tested positive for anatoxin-a.

Some cyanobacteria produce toxins that can be deadly to pets within 30 minutes and pose health risks to people, including skin, eye and throat irritation, or gastrointestinal illness.

The province is not aware of any other similar cases, said spokesperson Jean Bertin.

Three dogs died last year as a result cyanobacteria after swimming in the river in the Fredericton area.

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Last week, the provincial government issued cyanobacteria advisory for a 100-kilometre stretch of the St. John River between Fredericton and Woodstock. It's one of several active advisories around the province, some of which have lasted the entire decade.

The Public Health website has photos of cyanobacteria to show the different forms and colours it can take. 

'Very scary' situation

Kitchen-Brewer said she was not surprised when she was informed of the test results on Friday. 

"I didn't think anything else would cause the symptoms he had or his very quick death and the manner in which he died," she said in an email to CBC News. 

In a previous interview, she described that in "a matter of minutes" Flint began acting strangely — vomiting, wobbling, confusion — before he started convulsing. She said she tried to give the dog CPR, but he died en route to the vet.

"This situation is very scary for pets and humans," Kitchen-Brewer said Monday. "And the cyanobacteria is everywhere in the river." 

Public Health said people should check any body of water and not go in if they see or smell anything unusual.

Children and pets should be supervised to ensure they don't come into contact with cyanobacteria.