As pet owners, we always want to give our dogs the best possible care. We take them on long walks, feed them nutritious meals, and make sure they get plenty of exercise. However, sometimes even our best efforts can't protect them from hidden dangers. One such danger that's becoming more common is blue-green algae, which produces toxins that are deadly to dogs.
What is Blue-Green algae?
They are a type of bacteria found in various bodies of water, such as ponds, lakes, rivers, and even saltwater. It's found throughout the world, generally when the weather is warm and sunny (or has been recently).
Usually blue-green in color, it can form dense mats, called blooms, on the water's surface, ranging in size from small patches to covering entire lakes. Or it can look shiny, oily, or like paint floating on the water.
Even short-term exposure can cause acute illnesses in people and dogs. Playing in contaminated water can cause hay fever-like symptoms, skin rashes, and respiratory and digestive distress. Drinking water contaminated with a high concentration of blue-green algae could cause liver and kidney damage. Symptoms often begin within hours.
The dangers of blue-green algae for dogs
Dogs are generally more at risk, as they like to play and swim in the water and even drink it. Symptoms can appear within minutes of exposure, and can include:
- difficulty breathing
If you suspect that your dog has been exposed to blue-green algae, it's important to act quickly. Immediately speak with your vet and describe the symptoms your dog is exhibiting. If possible, bring a sample of the water with you to the vet to help with diagnosis and treatment.
Identifying blue-green algae
Although it can sometimes be difficult to identify, tell-tale signs include:
- water that looks like pea soup, green paint, or blue-green scum
- foam or bubbles on the surface of the water
- clumps or mats on the water or along the shoreline
- a musty or earthy smell
If you suspect that there may be blue-green algae present in a body of water, keep your dog away from the water.
Test kits are available that can be done on-site, with results in about 15 minutes. Be sure to use waterproof gloves when collecting a sample. Nitrile exam gloves are readily available online or at a local pharmacy.
Protect your dog from exposure.
The best way to protect your dog from blue-green algae is to prevent exposure in the first place. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Check for local advisories.
Many states have websites that post advisories about blue-green algae outbreaks in local bodies of water. Check out these advisories before heading out with your dog.
Keep your dog on a leash.
If you're not sure about the safety of a body of water, keep your dog on a leash and away from the water. This can help prevent him from drinking potentially contaminated water.
Avoid stagnant water.
Blue-green algae thrive in stagnant water, so it's best to avoid ponds or lakes that don't have a lot of circulation.
Watch your dog closely for any symptoms when they are swimming or playing in the water. If you see any of the symptoms listed above, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Blue-green algae often grows in ponds and lakes when the weather has been warm and sunny. The toxins it produces can be deadly to dogs.
Check for clumps of blue-green algae in the water or along the shoreline. Sometimes it will look shiny, oily, or like paint floating on the water. If you're not sure, keep your dog out of the water.
Test kits are available and only take about 15 minutes for results.
If your dog goes in or drinks any water that you suspect has blue-green algae, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice.
Be aware of the health risks and take precautions to reduce your dog's exposure to contaminated water. Keep your dog safe and healthy so they can enjoy the outdoors.
Header image courtesy California Waterboards - https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/