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Blue Green Algae Can Poison Your Dog

Updated on June 22, 2015
Dog in contaminated water
Dog in contaminated water | Source

Do you have a dog that loves water? Are you a pond owner as well? If your answer to this question is yes, then you have to keep a good eye on your pooch and your pond. Summer is here and the temperature is warmer. The abundant growth or the bloom of blue green algae usually happens during these months. Both saltwater and freshwater bodies of water become affected. Your backyard pond or the lake near you might be contaminated. If you’re not aware, you or your water-loving dog might be affected.

Blue-Green Algae

Also known as cyanobacteria, blue-green algae loves warm, still or slow-moving water. It is predominant in freshwater environments, but is also found in saltwater bodies f water around inlets and deltas (river mouths). Some cyanobacteria species are non-toxic, but others have cyanotoxins or cyanobacterial toxins.

Cyanotoxins are poisons, which are stored in the cells of certain cyanobacteria. Some of these toxins are categorized as the most powerful poisons ever known. There are toxins, which attack the GI tract, the skin, the liver (hepatotoxins), and the central nervous system (neurotoxins). When cyanobacterial cells die off or rupture, these cyanotoxins are released into the water.

Microcystins are a group of cyanotoxins, isolated from Microcystis aeruginosa. They are the most common cyanotoxins in water. They are also known for poisoning humans and animals, whenever there is physical contact with their blooms. Dogs are one of the animal species, affected by cyanobacteria. Algal blooms, which have cyanotoxins, are poisonous. To determine the presence of toxic cyanobacteria, water samples should be tested in the laboratory. If the water is negative for cyanotoxins, the water can then be declared safe.

Contaminated water
Contaminated water | Source

Physical Characteristics of Water, Contaminated by Toxic Cyanobacteria

When you see a body water resembling pea soup and gives off an earthy, musty odor, it is contaminated by blue-green algae. Cyanobacterial blooms are red, bright green, blue, or brown. It may seem like pain is floating on water. Some blooms have mats, foam, or scum, which float over the water. When the blooms accumulate on the shoreline, the present the greatest health risk to pets and people.

Dogs playing in contaminated water
Dogs playing in contaminated water | Source

When Your Dog or You Comes in Contact with Cyanotoxins

The moment you or your dog is exposed to cyanotoxins, the following start to happen:

  • throat irritation
  • itchiness of eyes and nose
  • skin irritation
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • nervous system damage
  • liver damage

Cyanotoxins are fatal to dogs and children because of their small body mass. Dogs are very susceptible. The cyanotoxins attach to their skin and fur. They even ingest the toxins by licking their fur or by drinking the contaminated water.

If you think, your dog may have been in contaminated water, watch out for the following cyanobacteria toxicity symptoms:

  • urination
  • lethargy
  • excessive salivation
  • difficulty of breathing
  • vomiting
  • convulsions
  • lack of coordination
  • diarrhea

About fifteen to twenty minutes of exposure to the neurotoxin, the dog will develop these given symptoms. Within half an hour to an hour of leaving the water, the dog dies. If the cyanotoxin is a hepatotoxin, the cyanobacteria will immediately target the liver. The dog dies with four to twenty-four hours of exposure.

Affected dog
Affected dog | Source

What to Do If You Know Your Dog is Exposed to Cyanotoxins

Take note that there are no antidotes to cyanotoxins. Supportive or palliative care may help keep the affected dog alive. If you are certain that your dog is affected by cyanotoxins, rush you dog to the vet immediately. Here are some things you can do, before you go to the vet:

  • Keep your dog from licking his or her contaminated fur. Put an Elizabethan collar or a muzzle on your dog.
  • Clean your dog with clean water immediately. Use bottled water. With a towel, remove the blue-green algae you see. Be careful not to touch it.
  • Never use a disinfectant or bleach in cleaning your dog’s fur. The cell rupture will only release the toxins.
  • Give your dog some activated charcoal. This will make your dog vomit. Activated charcoal absorbs toxins and flushes them out of your dog’s body. It also keeps the toxins confined in the stomach, so it does not affect other organs.

When you arrive at the vet clinic, your veterinarian may administer atropine to regulate your dog’s seizures. Once the toxins are flushed rapidly from your dog’s system, your dog survives the first stage of tissue damage. Your dog then has a good chance of full recovery.

Know the signs
Know the signs | Source

Necessary Precautions

Cyanotoxic blooms can grow overnight. If you have a backyard pond, be sure to watch out for algae Water or wind movement can transfer the algae from one point to another. If you think that the body of water has an algal bloom, be sure to let the environmental agencies or local government know. They are responsible for testing and monitoring freshwater bodies of water. You can also go ahead and post an alert, to notify other dog owners about the bloom in your neighborhood.

As much as possible, keep your dog leashed when you approach the water. Do not let your dog touch the water until you are sure that the water is safe. Also, have fresh, clean water for washing your dog. If you are hunting waterfowl, limit your areas of hunting to uncontaminated waters.

Types of Algal Toxins

Contaminated bodies of water may have any of the three algal toxins:

  1. Hepatotoxins or liver toxins. This toxin can cause jaundice, vomiting, loss of appetite, tender bellies, diarrhea, reduced or dark urine, hemorrhages, and liver damage.
  2. Neurotoxins or nerve toxins. Neurotoxins cause paralysis, stumbling, disorientation, seizures, elevated heart rate, respiratory failure, and inactivity.
  3. Skin toxins. This gives way to seizures, hives, excessive drooling, and rashes.

Additional Signs to Watch Out For In Your Dog

Here are some more signs of moderate to severe cyanotoxin toxicity too watch out for in dogs and other animals (birds, horses, cats, and cows):

  • Black and tarry stool (blood in stool)
  • Paleness of mucous membranes
  • Shock
  • Lacrimation and other types of excessive secretions
  • Paralysis
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Muscle tremors
  • Mucous membranes turn blue

Sick dog from algae poisoning
Sick dog from algae poisoning | Source
Sick dog from toxic algae
Sick dog from toxic algae | Source

Additional Signs to Watch Out For In Your Dog

Here are some more signs of moderate to severe cyanotoxin toxicity too watch out for in dogs and other animals (birds, horses, cats, and cows):

  • Black and tarry stool (blood in stool)
  • Paleness of mucous membranes
  • Shock
  • Lacrimation and other types of excessive secretions
  • Paralysis
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Muscle tremors
  • Mucous membranes turn blue

You are your dog’s primary care giver. It is your responsibility to make sure that your dog does not suffer from cyanotoxin poisoning. It is a refreshing treat for both you and your canine companion to have a dip in the lake. Try your best, not to let the sweet fun turn sour.

Be responsible enough to make that trip to the river or the beach a memorable and safe one. Keep your vet’s number handy and see to it that you know the nearest vet hospital in the area you are visiting. Remember, there are no antidotes to cyanotoxin poisoning, so staying away from the toxic algae is the best way to keep you and your dog safe.


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