Summertime is known for its long, sun-filled days and heat. Add some rainy days to the mix and this combination can be a recipe for the development of blue-green algae “blooms” in area lakes and ponds. Also known as cyanobacteria, blue-green algae is a microscopic bacteria that thrive in freshwater where such environmental conditions make it possible for these organisms to replicate rapidly turning the water on non-moving lakes and ponds a shocking green color – as if green paint or motor-oil has been spilled on the surface of the water.
Health problems can arise when animals, and people, come into contact with the various toxins that can be produced by the cyanobacteria. These organisms can produce toxins called microcystins and anatoxins, which are poisonous to humans and animals including dogs, cats, cattle, horses, etc. The microcystin toxins affect the gastrointestinal tract and the liver. When animals are exposed to these toxins, they may experience vomiting and diarrhea. If the cyanobacteria exposure is severe, it can be lethal and cause liver failure in animals. The anatoxins, affect the nervous system and result in neurologic signs, in animals, such as the inability to walk, tremors, leg rigidity, difficulty breathing and death.
Not All Blue-Green Algae Produce Deadly Toxins
Note, not all blue-green algae produce deadly toxins, in fact, most do not. However, it is Impossible to tell which ones do, just by looking at them. Therefore, all blooms should be considered toxic!
You should not allow your animals to swim or drink water that may contain blue-green algae. It is best to heed caution and avoid allowing your dog to swim in or drink from any body of water that has visible algae on the surface. Small exposures, as little as 1-2 licks, can potentially result in a fatal poisoning. If a dog drinks water from such a pond/lake, seek medical attention immediately. If a dog merely wades in the water a short time, it is not likely to be exposed to many toxins, but you should remove the dog from the water and clean him/her off with a towel, etc. and try to keep him from licking his fur. You should then, wash the dog thoroughly with clean water as soon as possible.
Treatment for cyanobacteria toxicities is limited and often unsuccessful due to the rapid onset of clinical signs; some dogs actually die before the owner is able to get them to medical care. The prognosis of blue-green algae poisoning with animals is poor, as there is no antidote. Early and aggressive supportive care including Intravenous fluids, electrolytes, and medications to control seizures should be initiated in all suspected cases.
Prevention of exposure is critical, and toxicity is 100 % preventable; if you take the right steps to protect your pet. If you suspect any water might contain blue-green algae, simply leave your dog at home or choose a different spot to enjoy the outdoors with your best friend.
With the warm weather of late summer and rainy days on the rise, the risk of blue-green algae blooms in our area, may not slow down soon. It is likely to be a concern until we get into cooler weather of fall; so it may be a problem well into September, as long as the weather stays warm and we continue to get rainfall.