Water Algae & Dogs-What You Need to Know

posted: by: Dawn, RVT Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

Almost everyone has likely heard the news stories of the water troubles around the Toledo area last weekend.  The fact is, most, if not all, bodies of water have some algae in them.  Most of the time the algae is in small enough amounts that it poses no real problem.  However, warmer weather can cause the algae to bloom and flourish, creating possible problems for humans and animals.


There are many types of algae, but one in particular, blue-green algae, breaks down and produces natural toxins which can make people and animals sick.  Also known as Cyanobacteria, blue-green algae grow rapidly during the warmer months towards summer'€™s end and create blooms that float on top of the water.  Usually these blooms are blue-green (hence the name), but they can also be brown or red, and can appear fuzzy or foamy.


Signs of toxicity in a body of water can include large numbers of dead fish, waterfowl, or other animals, skin rashes on humans after being in the water, or sudden, unexplained illness or death of an animal, especially with a possible or known exposure to algae.


Symptoms can begin within minutes or several hours to even days after exposure.  Algae containing neurotoxins cause excess salivation, muscle cramps, twitching/tremors, paralysis, cardiac failure, and death.  Algae containing hepatotoxins cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, pale gums, bloody stool, jaundice, seizures, acute liver failure, coma, shock, and death.  Other toxins can be generally irritating to the skin, GI tract, or any exposed tissue.


People and animals often become exposed to toxic algae by drinking affected water or swimming in affected water.  Water from swimming can seep into open cuts or sores.  Pets who swim in affected water can also ingest it by licking their fur afterwards.


Avoid the algae and toxins by staying out of the water altogether.  No drinking water or swimming in pond or lake water, or other bodies of standing water.  Rivers/streams typically have more movement, so algae are not as able to form blooms, however other dangers can lurk.


If your pet does swim in possibly toxic water, immediately rinse him off with clean water.  A good bath in a pet appropriate shampoo with another good rinse should follow.  Pets who drink possibly toxic water should see a veterinarian as soon as possible.  While there are no medications to '€˜reverse'€™ the toxins, there are treatments for internal exposure to try to absorb any toxins before damage can occur.  But this must be done very quickly before the body can absorb the toxins and do damage.


Pets surviving algae poisoning may experience life-long effects including being super sensitive to sunlight, chronic low weight problems, and failure to thrive.


A drought in the US in 2007 caused an increase in algae toxicity reports.  Around the Minnesota lakes regions, 40 cases of canine algae poisoning were reports, with at least 4 deaths.  This number pertains only to known cases, so in reality, it could be higher.


If you have a pond or lake on your property, you can help decrease the chances of toxic algae forming.  Algae need two nutrients, phosphorous and nitrogen, to prosper, which are found in animal waste, human waste (sewage), and fertilizers.  You can help prevent these nutrients from reaching the water by:


            1) Maintaining or restoring native plants around the shorelines-these help fliter the water and don'€™t require pesticides or fertilizer for maintenance.

            2) Not over-watering or over-fertilizing lawns, and not over-using pesticides.

            3) Using proper care and maintenance for your septic system.

            4) Preventing surface water run-off from livestock areas.  Don'€™t allow livestock or drink or defecate in any bodies of water (even streams and rivers feed into ponds and lakes).

            5) Not feeding waterfowl.

            6) Working to prevent erosion around construction and logging sites.


If you suspect your pet has come into contact with algae infected water, please call your veterinarian immediately.


Suburban Animal Clinic is located in West Columbus off I-70 near I-270.  Suburban Animal Clinic serves Galloway, Hilltop, West Side, Georgesville, West Jefferson, Grove CityGrandviewUpper Arlington (including OSU Campus area), Hilliard and Dublin.

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