Have you ever heard of cyanobacteria? You might know it by its common name: blue-green algae. Cyanobacteria is an extremely dangerous algae that typically lives in warm, nutrient-rich water, and can make both people and pets very sick. It can grow rapidly, or bloom, under the right conditions. Unfortunately, these blooms are becoming much more common. A veterinarian discusses cyanobacteria below.
Blue-green algae blooms usually occur in summer and early fall. However, they can happen any time that the water temperature goes over 75°F. Many local authorities and newscasts will let people know when a body of water has been contaminated, and some will post warning signs. However, it can be easy to miss these updates. The EPA has a map online here which lists cyanobacteria resources for every state. This is definitely something you want to check before taking Fido swimming, especially if you’re away from home.
As mentioned above, blue-green algae is very toxic. You don’t have to drink any contaminated water to get sick: you can also become ill via skin contact or by breathing in water droplets or vapors. This can happen when swimming, boating, or tubing. Cyanobacteria also sticks to pets’ fur, where they can later lick it off.
Blue-green algae looks like pea soup or green paint. It often has a swampy odor. However, you can’t judge a swimming hole by appearance alone. Smaller blooms can still be dangerous, but they may not alter the look (or smell) of a lake or pond very much. It’s also worth noting that, while not all algae blooms are dangerous, you can’t tell by looking at a lake whether it is or isn’t safe. Err on the side of caution here: if in doubt, just stay out!
Blue-green algae can make any pet sick, but dogs are particularly at risk, especially those that love to play, swim, or splash around in water. Blue-green algae can cause very serious problems, including neurological issues and/or liver failure, and can be fatal. Some of the warning signs include panting, respiratory problems, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness/disorientation, seizures, and excessive drooling. If your canine buddy shows any of these warning signs, call your veterinarian immediately.
As always, prevention is worth much more than cure. Be very careful when choosing Fido’s swimming holes, and don’t let your pup drink from lakes or ponds, especially ones with blue-green scum.
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