Beware toxic blue-green algae! It can kill your dog

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By Terri Nighswonger
It seems like there are way too many things we need to be concerned about when out and about playing with our dogs. From poisonous plants to water toxicity and dirty dog parks, it seems we should just stay home. But you don’t want to do that because you’d be denying your best friend an opportunity for physical and mental stimulation.

I learned of blue-green algae last summer and was concerned about coming across it. My dog is an avid swimmer and the last thing I would want to do was hurt or injure him in the name of fun.

Blue-green algae are not algae at all. They are cyanobacteria and these outbreaks are called cyanobacteria blooms. They look like foam, scum or mats on the surface of the water. These are typically found in slow-moving water as the temperature of the water increases during the summer.

According to the EPA, these harmful blooms are a major environmental problem in all 50 states. Also, cyanobacteria can grow in many waterways including warm fresh, marine or brackish waters and they do not all create a blue-green color.

Ingesting or swimming in the water can be fatal to dogs, damaging the liver and leading to organ failure. Death can occur from 12-24 hours after ingestion.

Some symptoms to look out for if your dog has swam in or been exposed to blue-green algae include:

  • Bleeding
  • Collapse and coma
  • Diarrhea (dark, tarry stool)
  • Jaundice (yellow tint to gums and skin)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Pale gums
  • Seizures
  • Shock
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

The best way to prevent cyanobacterial poisoning is to avoid water that looks like foam, or has scum or mats present on the surface. If the color is off or it smells, keep away. Some cyanobacterial blooms produce a nauseating smell.

Also, it’s a good idea to rinse your dog off with clean water after swimming and watch for symptoms for several days. If any symptoms appear, contact your veterinarian immediately.

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