Toxin in local waterways dangerous to pets

There's money to be made in scooping poop

We like to let our dog swim when we go to a park or the ocean. A
friend told us there is a toxic algae in the water nearby. If our
dog swallowed some of this, could he get sick?
Q: We like to let our dog swim when we go to a park or the ocean. A friend told us there is a toxic algae in the water nearby. If our dog swallowed some of this, could he get sick?


Your friend is right. There’s a warning at Pinto Lake in Watsonville. People are advised to avoid swimming and to keep pets out of the water due to a toxin called microcystin. This toxin has been produced by an algae that recently bloomed. Microcystin isn’t unique to Pinto Lake. It’s found in some other lakes across the country as well. But it’s a bad guy and can cause respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous disorders. Sadly, this toxin has also been linked to the deaths of at least 21 California sea otters.

Warning signs have been put out everywhere near this lake. And anytime a warning goes out, telling us there are dangerous pollutants or contaminants, we should keep our pets out of the water. What’s bad for us is usually just as dangerous for them.


Our dog, Lightening, sounds like an old man when he walks across the room. His back legs crackle and snap as he gets out of bed. He’s 6 years old and never limps or seems sore. He’s always done this and I never really paid any attention to it. But now I worry that he has some kind of arthritis. Will he be all right? Or should I have him checked by a vet?


That popping sound you hear as Lightening gets up to walk can be caused by several different phenomena. And unless he’s been injured or is lame, you probably don’t have to worry too much. There’s a small amount of gas (carbon dioxide) in the synovial fluid inside each joint. (This fluid acts to lubricate the joints.) When a little gas pocket is squeezed and moves, it can make a snapping sound. Tendons and ligaments can also pop or crackle when they move in and out of their normal location on the leg. Some people and some animals (even horses and cows) make a lot of sound when they first get up and walk.

These sounds, by themselves, don’t necessarily indicate a problem with the joints. It’s a little unusual for a dog to make so much noise. But some dogs, especially large breeds can be noisier that others. If Lightening seems the least bit stiff or sore, he should have a checkup. It might be a good idea anyway, just to give you some peace of mind. Otherwise, he should be just fine.


My brother just had to have emergency surgery to have his appendix removed. His doctor told him the appendix isn’t important and he’ll be fine after he’s out of the hospital. But we got to thinking. Do dogs and cats have an appendix? What about other animals? What does it do?


Dogs and cats have an intestinal structure similar to the human appendix. It’s called the cecum. In all of us, it’s a very small outpocket or pouch where the small and large intestine connect; it’s really nothing more that an anatomical vestige. And as your brother’s doctor said, it’s can be removed without any consequences.

But this structure is vastly different in some other animals. For them, the cecum is an important part of digestion. Horses and rabbits have a large, well-developed cecum that harbors a large number of microorganisms necessary for digestion. The bacteria and protozoa that are found there help digest the roughage in their diet. Without this microflora, these animals wouldn’t be able to eat grasses or hay.

The cecum on a horse is rather large, almost 4 foot long in bigger horses! It’s on the right side of the abdomen, located in the flank region. And it’s a very active part of the digestive anatomy. If you ever have a chance, put your ear up to this area and listen. The sounds of the cecum digesting food are often compared to those of a thunderstorm!

One other note: Cows, goats and sheep eat the same food as horses. But their digestive tract is different. Instead of a large cecum, they have an enlarged stomach with four different compartments. One of these, the rumen, has many of the same microflora that are found in the horse’s cecum. Ruminant farm animals are also a little different because they chew their cud. Horses, rabbits and others with cecal digestion do not do this.

Anyway, it’s a good thing your brother didn’t really need that little appendix. I suspect he’ll be fine and we all hope he makes a quick recovery.

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