Blue Green Algae Poisoning For Dogs And People

Blue green algae sound harmless but actually can cause severe poisoning for dogs and people. If your dog swims lakes, rivers, or ponds as many of ours do- please be sure to read about this Cyanobacteria and how you can identify and avoid it!

What is Blue-Green Algae?

Strangely enough, Blue-Green Algae isn’t an algae at all but Cyanobacteria, a phylum of bacteria that’s present in warm water–lakes, rivers, and ponds. Blue-Green algae can be found in freshwater, brackish water, and saltwater. It’s often the result of the warm water combined with fertilizers with substances like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Septic fields, and agricultural or storm runoff to form a breeding ground for this toxic bacteria as well sadly.  In this post, I will bring light on Blue Green algae poisoning for both dogs and people.

What do blue-green algae look like?

Here’s where it gets tricky–it is so difficult to know what is blue-green algae and how it can poisonous dogs and people, as well as harmless plant life in the lakes and rivers. Despite its name, blue-green algae can be many colors: green, red, orange, or brown.

But it’s not always so apparent. You’ll see in these photos–taken by the dog mom whose three dogs passed away after playing in the mud at the edge of this pond–that water contaminated with blue-green algae can look quite clear:

Why are these bacteria so dangerous for dogs?

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency:

“Pets, especially dogs, are susceptible to harmful algae because they swallow more water while swimming and doing activities like retrieving a ball from the water. They are also less deterred by green, smelly water that may contain harmful algae than humans are”

YES, It Is Dangerous For Humans Too!

Dogs also tend to lick off the water once they’re on land. It can stick to a pet’s fur and be ingested when they clean themselves. It is important BOTH of you so take caution before going into a body of water and be sure to rinse your pet thoroughly with fresh water after going for a dip. additional intake of the potentially toxic substance.  This algae is poisonous for dogs and people alike.

The bacteria is also harmful to humans; in Austin, kayakers and canoeists are warned to rinse off immediately if they fall into the water. Very scary stuff. Never knew algae could be so dangerous!

What Are The Symptoms of Blue-Green Algae Poisoning For Dogs?

The symptoms of poisoning begin shockingly soon after a swim–sometimes even minutes later. This article lists these signs that you should be aware of if your dog has been for a swim.

If you see any of these signs, head to your veterinarian or an emergency veterinarian:

  • Excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Jaundice, hepatomegaly
  • Blood in urine or dark urine
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Photosensitive
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Progression of muscle twitches
  • Respiratory paralysis

If your dog does come into contact with water you may believe contains blue-green algae, work quickly.

“If your pet does accidentally come in contact with the water, bathe them immediately,” said Sara Hartley, an assistant director with Austin’s watershed protection department in an interview with CBS Austin following the closure of Red Bud Isle.

Professional Opinion and Worries

In Austin Texas this is an issue

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service aquaculture expert has offered information on this topic that has worried so many dog lovers:

Todd Sink, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension aquaculture specialist, College Station, wanted to address recent stories involving companion animal deaths linked to toxins in surface water to assuage fears and provide information to help the public protect themselves and their animals.

Sink is also Texas A&M University Wildlife and Fisheries associate department head and program leader, and director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Aquatic Diagnostics Laboratory.

Sink said cyanobacteria are everywhere in the environment and exist in virtually every single body of water in the world. There are hundreds of different species in the U.S. alone.

Media Make It Seem Like Less Is More

The media sometimes makes things worse and causes more worry than there needs to be concerning dog deaths. Though these are terrible occurrences, they are more isolated. Out of millions of dogs, only a small handful will be impacted by algae poisoning. Sink said  “So far seven to eight dogs out of the millions of dogs in the U.S. have died due to toxic cyanobacteria blooms this year. That can still make these isolated incidences bad, however.

“As a fellow dog owner, I sympathize with those who tragically lost their beloved pet. However, thousands of dogs in the U.S. die every year due to preventable illnesses or conditions such as heartworms, heatstroke, starvation, exposure, accidental poisoning, or being run over by a vehicle. Sensationalizing these cyanobacteria-related deaths has only served to scare dog owners.”

He typically receives six to eight cases of livestock or wildlife deaths due to cyanobacteria toxicity per year at the Aquatic Diagnostic lab.

“There are 1.3 million ponds in the state of Texas, and the vast majority of livestock animals are solely reliant on these as a source of drinking water, yet I only receive six to eight cases a year,” he said.

Be Diligent, Methodical, and Educated

This post is here to help you be more methodical and educated on the matter.  I know personally how awful it is when one second your dog is having fun in perfect health. The next second you are at the vet having to make very difficult choices or receive difficult news.

My old dog Butters passed away when he was 6 years old due to osteosarcoma.  He was running around going in and out of streams, chasing other dogs, having the time of his life.  He just randomly came up limp on his front right arm and we thought he had broken it. We went to the doctor thinking he broke his legend I am thinking we are going to get a cast on this and leave but then we received news that he would inevitably be taken by this cancer. It was in his bloodstream at this point and therefore everywhere in his body.  Very sad, Here is another example of a couple that brought their 2 westies (they have pictured) out one morning, and by the end of the day they were passed away.

Helping Tips to Avoid Blue-Green Algae

In most cases, there is no need to fear allowing pets to play in bodies of water, nor is there necessarily a need for owners to submit samples for expensive testing. There are other no-cost common-sense methods to protect their pets.

Detect and Identify Cyanobacteria

Sink addressed “The first thing you should know is the presence of a bluish-green surface scum or mat is an immediate red flag for swimming.”

For images of cyanobacteria including bluish-green surface mats and scums and more identification features and prevention and management, options see the AquaPlant website.

The bluish-green color is a clear sign of cyanobacteria, but the absence of this color in most cases means absolutely nothing because most cyanobacteria are not blue-green. Most species are various shades of green, brown, and some even have a maroon tint, so color alone cannot be used to identify cyanobacteria.

The scarier thing is when the color is not always present.  It can appear almost like oil on top of the water.  If you have ever seen someone jump into a pool with a lot of sunscreen on- it can also appear like that.  Sometimes you need to look at other identifiers and need to look at it from the correct angle.

“Always check the surface of the water against the bank on the downwind side of the pond before allowing a pet to swim or drink the water,” he said.

Red Flags of Cyanobacteria

Cyanobacteria in blooms are one thing, but that is not always the case when scientists are trying to divulge how big of an issue is on their hands.  Here are some big red flags there could be potential for algae poisoning in dogs.

  • Dead Fish, minnows, frogs, etc on the shore or floating in the water. Due to their prolonged exposure time and direct exposure to the gills.  Fish are going to be the first to show signs.
  • Irregular round egg-shaped clumps of dark green or dark bluish-green algae.  They float along at the surface and may form mats along wind-blown edges of ponds. The genus Microcystis, which produces the potent hepatotoxin microcystin-LR, often starts as a fine film or scum at very low densities during the initial phase of a bloom

Know The Signs And Avoid Algae Poisoning for Your Dog

“As general precaution pets should not be allowed to swim in or any body of water that is intensely green or blue-green in color.  If that color, there is an obvious high density of algal cells.” Sink said. This high density of algal cells 99/100 times is due to a bloom of harmless green or brown algae or even non-toxic producing cyanobacteria.  You never know if it may be a bloom of toxin-producing cyanobacteria or have toxin-producing cyanobacteria mixed in.”

that are lethal and rather cause minor skin and mucous membrane irritation.

Some cyanobacteria have one toxin that if ingested can be fatal. Others produce multiple toxins that can be fatal if ingested. The type and quantity needed to be fatal are determined by the size of the animal. For example, the same amount will be fatal to a dog compared to deer, a horse, or a cow.

Types of toxins

Different species of cyanobacteria produce different toxins listed below.

Endotoxins are the least toxic and are problematic after ingesting large quantities. They result in intestinal discomfort, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Cytotoxins are typically low to moderate in toxicity causing minor to moderate irritation of the skin and mucous membranes.

Hapatotoxins are highly toxic resulting in severe liver damage and potential failure.  Typically require repeated ingestion of contaminated water as the toxins build up in the liver over time and can result in death in hours to days.

Neurotoxins are highly toxic and can result in failure of the neurological system. This can result in heart cessation and breathing failure in minutes to hours.  These types of toxins are consistently present in snake venom.

To further complicate the issue, Sink said cyanobacteria species that do produce these toxins, do not produce them all the time.

Understanding How Cyanobacteria Form And How Often

“As long as nutrients are not limiting and environmental conditions remain favorable, they will not produce toxins,” he said. “Cyanobacteria typically produce the toxins under ‘bloom’ conditions.”

Cyanobacteria blooms typically occur under hot or dry conditions. From here, water becomes more stagnant due to a lack of incoming water or rainfall. These conditions tend to evaporate large quantities of water leaving behind and concentrating nutrients in the remaining water.  This can cause blooms, where cyanobacteria multiply very rapidly and become highly concentrated in the water.

“When bloom conditions occur, eventually the rapidly growing cyanobacteria population will suddenly exhaust the nutrient supply available,” Sink continued. “It is under these conditions that they become the most dangerous and produce the most toxins.”

Defense Mechanism Danger

Cyanobacteria developed cyanotoxins as a defense mechanism against zooplankton and other predators.  They do this to limit competition for nutrients and sunlight from other planktonic types of algae and diatoms.  They do not always produce the toxins at heavy levels that can be deadly to dogs and humans, however. Better to be safe than sorry.

Don’t let blue-green algae poisoning become an issue for dogs. Regardless of where you live, please take a few moments to check for algae before you let your dog in or around the water this summer. This is one way you can keep your dog safe at the lake or river this summer!