(FL - US) Unconventional treatment aids dogs sickened by red tide

Snugglezzz at aol.com Snugglezzz at aol.com
Tue Jun 17 19:41:26 EDT 2003

<A HREF="mailto:rod.millington at heraldtribune.com">STAFF PHOTO / ROD MILLINGTON /</A>
Lisa Surdam's 10-year-old Staffordshire terrier, Lazy, is doing well after 
falling ill from red tide poisoning on Little Gasparilla Island.
>Unconventional treatment aids dogs sickened by red tide


As red tide settled in Placida Sound, just east of Little Gasparilla Island, 
the algal bloom appeared to be a typical onslaught of the Florida red tide 
organism, Karenia brevis.

Dead fish washed ashore. Island residents stayed indoors or donned surgical 
masks to filter the toxins the red tide would release into the air.

But this time something else happened: The dogs got very sick.

Soon, this particular red tide event took on an historic significance that 
the scientific community is still trying to sort out.

Scientists at the Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg have 
confirmed the presence of red tide toxins in the bloodstream of at least one dog 
from Little Gasparilla. They believe it may be the first known intoxication 
documented outside a laboratory.

And an unconventional treatment, which seems to work, has also broken new 
ground in veterinary circles.

It all started in mid-April when Buddy and Laurie Gaines' dog, Olivia, spent 
a day on the Little Gasparilla Island beach near their home. She ran around, 
swam in the waves and ate dead fish on shore.

That evening, the year-old vizsla, a medium-sized hunting dog, became 
disoriented and began to stumble as if she were drunk. When her condition worsened, 
the couple rushed her to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Port Charlotte.

By the time they got there, she was paralyzed, blind and suffering seizures.

Laurie Gaines says she suspected red tide as the culprit, but the 
veterinarian, Amanda Schell, said she had never heard of an algal bloom having that 

Schell administered a traditional treatment -- fluids and antibiotics.

The dog recovered, went home, relapsed, returned to the vet, and eventually 
was rushed to Florida Veterinary Specialists in Tampa, where she spent 10 days 
undergoing tests for everything from West Nile virus to heavy metal 

Meanwhile, other dogs with the same symptoms were coming to the Port 
Charlotte emergency clinic, and to other veterinarians, from Little Gasparilla.

Gene and Lisa Surdam brought in three dogs. "They were going blind. They were 
throwing up. They were whining and thrashing. It was absolutely heartbreaking 
to watch," Lisa Surdam says.

The vets finally concluded red tide could have triggered the symptoms, but 
they could find no documented cases or literature about how to treat red tide 
poisoning in dogs.

A urine sample, collected April 16 by the marine research institute, 
confirmed Olivia had considerable concentrations of brevetoxins in her body.

Still, no one knew what to do about it. A new method
Help came from an unexpected quarter when Roger Botelson of the Englewood 
Animal Hospital, who also treated four dogs, conferred with Louie Pierson of 
Amber Lake Wildlife Refuge.

Pierson is an old hand at treating seabirds, such as cormorants, suffering 
from red tide effects. He has found that letting the birds dehydrate for 24 
hours or so increases their survival rate dramatically.

Botelson tried the method on one of the Surdams' dogs. He administered 
diuretics, monitored the kidneys and said the treatment worked.

Schell followed suit in the emergency clinic and reported success with 10 

"It goes against everything we learn as doctors in medical school, but it 
works," she says.

The problems lingered only for Olivia, the first to show signs of the 
poisoning and the lone dog under Schell's care that did not receive the diuretic 
treatment. Two weeks after her first sample, the concentration of toxin in 
Olivia's urine was three times greater. The Gaines family, in Maine at the time, took 
their dog to Tufts University Medical Center near Boston.

"They had never heard of brevetoxin," Laurie Gaines says. Olivia stayed for 
21 days.

She has since returned to normal. But her veterinary bills have totaled about 
$18,000, Gaines says.

While the vets searched for sources of treatment, scientists at the Florida 
Marine Research Institute collected reports, even anecdotal ones, about current 
and historic incidents of red tide debilitating dogs.

"This was definitely something different," says Jan Landsberg, who 
specializes in red tide's effect on animals. "We were intrigued by the whole thing."

Piecing together the past
Karen Steidinger, for whom the red tide genus is named and who has worked at 
the research institute for about 40 years, could recall no similar event, 
Landsberg says.

Landsberg called colleagues around the Gulf Coast, and the best she could 
elicit were reports, from the 1990s in Texas, suggesting pets "might be 
susceptible to red tide poisonings."

That's it, other than the report of a 1979 experiment in New York in which 
anesthetized dogs, injected with K. brevis cultures, experienced slowed heart 
rate, blood pressure fluctuation and stoppage of breathing.

A paucity of historical record doesn't signal that a new strain of algae has 
camped out along the Southwest Florida coast, Landsberg says.

Circumstances may have been just right to produce the Little Gasparilla 
event. Concentrations of the red tide cells surrounded the island. There was little 
breeze for several days. Residents let their dogs run loose on the beach. 
Some of the dogs ate fish and ingested water.

Landsberg says it would take laboratory tests and elimination of other 
variables to prove, scientifically, that red tide caused the distress the Little 
Gasparilla Island dogs experienced.

However, the circumstantial evidence certainly points to that conclusion. As 
an institute document noted, "The current cases originating on Little 
Gasparilla Island, along with the improved methods of toxins analyses that are now 
available, suggest that dogs are sensitive to brevetoxin exposure.

"Most certainly, the recommendations must now include the caution to prevent 
dogs (and probably other pets) from consuming red-tide associated substances," 
the document stated.

Landsberg says the marine research institute has continued to collect urine 
samples from affected dogs. Schell has collected five. They will be forwarded 
to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to analyze the toxins in them, 
Landsberg says.

If nothing else, the exercise has turned on a light for area veterinarians.

"During the past 10 years, we've had a lot of similar toxicity cases from 
Boca Grande and Englewood," says Greg Fluharty, a vet with The Animal Clinic in 
Port Charlotte. "We couldn't nail it down. We thought it was food poisoning, 
when in fact it was probably this toxin."

As for the unconventional treatment, veterinarian Botelson says, "That's the 
way a lot of science works -- trial and error. Then the university guys figure 
out why it works."

Last modified: June 16. 2003 7:35AM

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