Important Information about Blue-Green Algae

What is Blue-Green Algae?

Blue-green algae, or Cyanobacteria, occurs in freshwater lakes and ponds worldwide. There are many types of Cyanobacteria, some of which produce toxins that are highly poisonous to mammals, and dogs in particular.  Blue-green algae is often found close to the shore, which means it is quite easy for dogs to come into contact with it, especially in summer when dogs like to swim.

Blue-green algae typically looks like thick, blue/green iridescent paint, and is found on the surface of stagnant water. Thick blooms of algae are also often visible underneath the surface of the water. Blue-green algae thrives in warm weather, and occurs quite frequently in the UK during late summer. It can also develop suddenly, even overnight in some cases. Not all species of blue-green algae are toxic, but it can be difficult to distinguish a difference without laboratory testing.

 

Symptoms of Blue-Green Algae Poisoning

Blue-green algae poisoning can affect different animals in different ways. It can do anything from affecting the dog’s skin and/or gastrointestinal system to damaging the liver and nervous system. It can even cause death in severe circumstances. Symptoms typically develop quickly, often in as little as 15-20 minutes.

Symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme fatigue or weakness
  • Symptoms of shock
  • Difficult breathing
  • Muscle tremors
  • Excessive drooling
  • Jaundiced, pale or blue gums

What You can Do to Protect Your Dog

It is important to keep concerns over blue-green algae in context. A little common sense should be all that is necessary to keep your dog protected from the risks. Often, public lakes will have the water regularly monitored, and will erect signs to alert dog walkers if there is blue-green algae present in the water.  In addition, we have not had a particularly warm summer here in Britain this year, so the risks of blue-green algae remain relatively low at present.

Still, in the summer months it is important to check the state of the water before you let your dog dive in. Keep your dog on a lead around still water, and do not let them swim in any water that looks thick, green and turgid. If you are unsure or concerned, perhaps let your dog swim in streams or gently flowing rivers instead, as blue-green algae is less likely to form if the water is flowing.

You should also contact your Local Authority if you discover blue-green algae. They will be able to test the water, and erect signs if necessary to alert future dog walkers.

What to do in an Emergency

If your dog accidentally comes into contact with blue-green algae, it is important to seek veterinary help immediately. Although there is no known cure for blue-green algae exposure, there is a small time-frame where supportive care can be given to help keep the animal alive and healthy, including activated charcoal and/or adrenalin.

In the meantime, you can help by adhering to the following:

  • Wash/rinse your pet in clean water only. Wear gloves so that you yourself are not exposed to any of the algae.
  • Do not use bleach or disinfectant to clean your dog – it may enhance the spread of any toxins.
  • Do not let your pet lick itself, as he may ingest more of the algae.

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