Dogs love to run and play, and we love to see our pups happy. As we are into the warmer months of the year, it may seem like a really fun idea to go with our dog for a hike, perhaps let them play or swim at a local lake or pond. While this may sound like a great idea in theory, there’s a lot of risk that awaits.
Perhaps when we get to that lake at the end of the trail, we may see that it appears cloudy or murky in some way. Perhaps the water is a weird greenish color. In this case, you could be dealing with blue-green algae. And if that is the case, it can be very, very dangerous. Pawp spoke to vets and pet experts about algae poisoning in dogs (more specifically blue-green algae), its causes, its symptoms, and its potential treatments.
Blue-green algae is usually what we’re talking about when we think about algae poisoning in dogs. This is most often found in exactly the areas where dogs would most want to enjoy the sun and the tropical environment — but it’s a silent killer.
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“The most common toxic algae in the U.S. is blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) and is most likely to thrive in bodies of fresh water when the weather is warm and sunny,” says Erin Askeland, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, Camp Bow Wow's lead Animal Health & Behavior Consultant. This algae releases dangerous toxins into the water that can be deadly to dogs, but to their humans as well, and cause everything from neurologic to liver damage that progresses rapidly.
Algae intoxications happen more during the summer because weather conditions promote the growth of cyanobacteria. “These organisms are incredibly toxic and are known to cause poisoning in dogs, cats, livestock, wildlife, birds, fish and even humans,” says Askeland.
Blue-green algae may appear to look like spilled paint in water, thick foam on the surface, or swirls of color just on the surface of the water. “Be sure to check the appearance of the water before jumping in yourself, or letting your dog enter any natural water source,” says Askeland.
While blue-green algae tends to form near the shoreline of lakes, the blooms can move around the lake depending on the wind, so be sure to check your swim spot thoroughly before entering the water.
It’s exactly what we love most about our dogs that puts them at risk when it comes to algae. Dogs are curious and playful, and they may go for a swim or taste the toxic water from the lake. That’s all it takes. Drinking the wrong water can lead to algae poisoning.
Dogs can be affected by the algae when they drink from contaminated water sources. Dogs that swim in contaminated water are at a higher risk of algae poisoning because of the amount of water they are likely to ingest. “If toxic algae is ingested, it can cause severe neurologic or liver damage and lead to death,” says Askeland.
When in doubt, stay away. Avoid water that seems at all out of the ordinary or like it could even potentially be risky. It’s not worth the risk, and the results could very well be tragic.
The vet will have to work quickly if your dog has a chance of recovering. Prevention is your best bet with algae poisoning.
First thing first, if you think your dog has come in contact with toxic algae, get out of the water! The bacteria is very dangerous for humans as well as pets. “Immediately try to rinse yourself and your dog with fresh water and get to your vet right away,” says Askeland.
Do not wait and just monitor symptoms, especially if you think your dog may have ingested water with the algae. The symptoms can arise quickly, and with the toxicity, your dog’s health can spiral quickly. Be sure to get them to a veterinarian without delay.
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Ultimately, the best way to help your dog is going to be through prevention. Do not let your dogs drink, swim, or play near water that has algae or looks murky or cloudy in any way.
Professional medical assistance will ensure that your dog receives the right type of treatment for their condition quickly, and speed is crucial in treating algae poisoning because algal toxins act fast. “Your dog may take weeks or even months to recover from algae poisoning,” says Canine Nutrition Specialist Estrella Bolton.
It is very important to treat ASAP because the toxin in the algae starts working very fast so speedy treatment is a must. “Treatment may include: inducing vomiting to get algae out, administering activated charcoal early to absorb some of the toxin. There is no specific antidote, treatment is limited to supportive care only. IV fluids usually are administered, sometimes muscle relaxers or anti-seizure medications,” says Dr. Laura Robinson, a small animal veterinarian, and resident vet expert for Pawp.
Prognosis is not good and some animals may even pass away before reaching the vet. “It can be very deadly. The best way to help your dog is to block access to blue-green algae aka fence off contaminated ponds, lakes, fountains etc, don't let them swim or be around it, even if they swim in it and don't drink it, they could lick it off their fur later and get sick,” says Dr. Robinson.