Protecting Your Furry Friends: Staying Alert to Toxic Algae Dangers 

September 6, 2023
“These blooms can produce dangerous toxins that can sicken and even kill dogs, sometimes within minutes of exposure.”

As the summer heat calls both humans and their four-legged companions to the refreshing waters of area lakes, toxic blue-green algae outbreaks pose a serious threat to our beloved pets. Dogs splashing in the water might seem harmless enough, but hidden dangers lurk beneath the surface. 

Outbreaks of cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae, are on the rise in both frequency and intensity. These organisms thrive and multiply rapidly under warmer temperatures, especially when excess nutrients and pollutants are present in the water. 

Credit: Jay Janner/Austin-American Statesman 

Understanding the Risk to Pets

Toxic algae, specifically cyanobacteria, can release dangerous toxins into the water, leading to severe illness or even death in animals. Dogs, in particular, are at risk due to their propensity to ingest water while swimming and their tendency to interact with mats of dried algae along the shoreline. 

BlueGreen CEO Eyal Harel says, “Sadly, every year we see beloved family pets die from exposure to harmful algae. These blooms can produce dangerous toxins that can sicken and even kill dogs, sometimes within minutes of exposure. We want pet owners to be aware of the risks and to know how to stay safe as they cool off in water bodies this summer.”

Recognizing the Danger Signs and Taking Protective Measures

Dr. Jessica Frost, the Scientific Director at BlueGreen, advises pet owners to be vigilant. While advisories provide valuable information, not all water bodies are tested for the presence of harmful algae. Look out for signs like a bluish-green film, scum, or mats on the water's surface. These visual cues could indicate a potential outbreak. If you spot these signs, it's crucial to leave the area promptly.

Prevention is paramount because there are currently no known antidotes to cyanotoxins. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscores the limited treatment options available for pets affected by these toxins.

Credit: Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman

“Do not let pets drink lake or pond water, and be sure to rinse your pet with fresh water after they swim,” said Frost. “If you believe your pet may have been exposed, seek veterinary care as soon as possible.”

Dr. Frost offers practical advice for safeguarding your furry friends. Prevent them from drinking water from lakes or ponds, and always rinse them with fresh water after their swim. Should you suspect exposure to toxic algae, seek veterinary care without delay. Additionally, remember that the danger isn't limited to the water; toxins can lurk along the shoreline and become airborne, potentially causing respiratory distress in animals.

BlueGreen’s Lucia Ross emphasizes the importance of vigilance: “Before allowing pets to play near the water, examine the shoreline for obvious signs of dried blooms, being mindful that these dead cells may still contain extremely high levels of toxin. If you are on a lake or beach and discover the remnants of a dead bloom, leave the area immediately.”

While off cooling in a lake this summer is inviting, the threat of toxic blue-green algae requires pet owners to exercise caution and awareness. By recognizing the signs of danger, following preventative measures, and staying informed, we can ensure that our furry companions have a joyful and safe experience by the water's edge. 

Helpful Tips Before You Go

To protect your pets from harmful algal blooms:

  • Know before you go. Check for advisories before you head to the lake and stay away when warnings are posted.
  • If the water is discolored, smells bad, or has foam, scum on the surface, leave immediately.
  • Examine the shoreline for evidence of dried algal blooms. Dead blooms may still contain toxins that can be fatal to your pet.
  • Do not fish, boat, or play water sports when harmful algae are present.
  • Wear gloves and rinse animals immediately after contact with infected water.

Symptoms of exposure can occur that day or within a few days, including:

  • Lack of energy and difficulty breathing
  • Bruising, tremors, and seizures
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Dark urine and yellowing around the eyes

Getting Help

  • Contact your local veterinarian immediately if you think your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms.
  • In the event the veterinarian can’t be reached, contact ASPCA Animal Poison at 1-888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-764-7661.

To spot harmful algal blooms:

  • Water color appears bright green, blue-green, or red.
  • Waterbody has slimy plants, foam, scum, or mats floating on the surface.
  • Smells musty, fishy, or like rotten eggs, septic, or gasoline.

Mountains above a clear lake

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