NCW — The state Department of Health is advising the public to be careful around lakes and rivers due to toxic algae blooms that may have resulted in the deaths of three dogs in Spokane County.

The three dogs were swimming in the Little Spokane River near Chatteroy and a fourth fell ill after swimming in the Spokane River near the Harvard Road Bridge, according to a DOH news release. The cause is still under investigation.

“Due to ongoing drought and warm temperatures in our state, lakes, rivers, and streams are under tremendous stress right now,” Dr. Scott Lindquist, the Department of Health’s chief science officer, said in a news release. “As a result, we are receiving reports of toxic algae blooms in areas we have not seen before.”

Freshwater algae blooms caused by cyanobacteria are most common in lakes, but can occur in rivers and streams with warm, slow moving and stagnant waters, according to the news release.

Algae blooms vary in appearance but commonly look like pea soup and may have a blue-green or turquoise color.

The state Department of Ecology tracks cyanobacteria blooms across the state in an online database found here:

The only body of water in North Central Washington as of Monday that exceeded the state’s recreation guidelines is the Rufus Woods Lake near Pearl Hill, according to the state’s database.

The lake was last tested on July 14.

Four lakes in Chelan and Douglas counties — Fish Lake, Jameson Lake, Lake Pateros, Hammond Lake — do not have testing data available from the past four weeks.

Fish Lake exceeded the state guideline back in August 2020 and Hammond Lake exceeded the guidelines in August 2018. Part of the Columbia River near Malaga exceeded the state’s guideline for algae blooms in July 2017.

Data from samples can take some time to be analyzed, so the state recommends the public use caution when going into any lake.

Dogs and other animals can be exposed by drinking contaminated water, swallowing water while swimming, or licking cyanobacteria from their fur, according to the DOH news release.

If a pet or livestock has been exposed to a toxic algae bloom, immediately wash them off with clean water to keep them from licking their fur.

Possible signs of harmful algae bloom exposure include: vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, tremors and seizures, according to the DOH news release.

DOH recommends that people follow these precautions before going into a body of water:

  • Look for signs of toxic algae blooms and pay attention to signage. When in doubt, stay out.
  • Do not swim in and limit exposure to water that is under a health advisory or is listed as having a toxic algae bloom on the state’s Department of Ecology toxic algae tracking site.
  • Individuals who swim or play in the water should shower with soap and water when done.
  • Contact a healthcare provider immediately if you become ill or have symptoms of after a suspected exposure to algae bloom.
  • Report suspected toxic algae blooms online at the Washington state toxic algae tracking site or contact your local health jurisdiction.