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Blue-green Algae Risk Information for Pet Care Providers

Dog swimming in water

What do you know about blue-green algae dangers to pets? Last week, IBPSA shared an article from the Austin-American Statesmen about two dogs that had died from the toxic algae after swimming in the city of Austin’s popular Lady Bird Lake. From that article:

“According to the Merck Veterinary Manual online, blue-green algae can produce toxins that are poisonous to dogs. Some symptoms of algae poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, loss of appetite, stumbling, seizures and excessive salivation.”

In response to that posted article, one of our IBPSA Members had this comment:

“We have this in all of the water ways in our state, and therefore always strongly discourage parents from letting their dogs in any ponds, lakes or streams. We are an agricultural state, and the run off from farms has ruined all of our waterways. It’s very unfortunate.”

Since then, three more dogs, these in North Carolina, reportedly died within hours of being exposed to blue-green algae while cooling off in a pond. One dog began having a seizure within 15 minutes of leaving the pond. All three were rushed to the veterinary hospital where all began seizing. The dogs showed signs of liver failure, rapidly declined, and died that same night. According to the CNN report, the attending veterinarian identified blue-green algae poisoning. The dog’s owner said they did not notice the algae at first “but her veterinarian told her that what appeared to be debris from flowers were blooms of cyanobacteria.” Further, “she said she didn’t see any signs warning of toxic algae near the pond, which sits next to a popular walking trail.”

Blue-green algae is actually a type of bacteria called cyanobacteria, one of the oldest and largest groups of bacteria. “Blooms” are the visible colonies of the bacteria. According to Phys.org, a site for “news and articles on science and technology,” there is a “worsening algae plague” all over the world. Why? Here is what they say:

“Scientists believe a combination of factors can trigger large blooms, including warm temperatures, slow water circulation and excessive nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus. Among nutrient sources are runoff from farms and urban lawns as well as industrial wastes and sewage…Many countries are experiencing ‘disturbing trends of increasing bloom incidence’ and growing economic losses, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says.”

As explained in California’s State Water Resources Control Board’s “Blue-green Algae (Cyanobacteria) Fact Sheet,” blue-green algae (BGA) blooms “occur when algae that are normally present grow quickly.” From the fact sheet:

“Within a few days, a bloom can cause clear water to become cloudy. The blooms usually float to the surface and can be many inches thick, especially near the shoreline. BGA blooms can form in warm, slow-moving waters that are rich in nutrients such as fertilizer and manure runoff or septic tank overflows. Blooms can occur at any time, but most often occur in late summer or early fall. The blooms of greatest concern are the ones that occur in fresh water.

“What a BGA bloom looks like: Some blooms can look like foam, scum, or mats on the surface of rivers, creeks and ponds. The blooms can be blue, bright green, brown, or red and may look like paint floating on the water. As the algae die the water may smell bad.”

Download the fact sheet as a PDF here.

As always, education for pet care providers is key. Thank you to our IBPSA Member for her comment and her efforts to keep the pets in her area safe.

Update: As we wrapped up this post, we did one more check of the news and learned that a dog in Georgia died over the weekend after playing in a lake. The cause of death was reportedly “most likely” from a lake toxin.