Blue-green algae is hazardous to your health (and your dog’s)

By Chris Shafer
Reader Contributor with Panhandle Animal Shelter

During warm weather months, blue-green algae blooms can grow in freshwater lakes, rivers, or waterways.  Avoiding areas contaminated with blue-green algae is extremely important because contact with toxic blooms can be harmful to humans and fatal for dogs.

An example of blue-green algae. Photo by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, grows in warm, slow-moving, or still water.  Some species are non-toxic but some species can house poisons called cyanobacterial toxins or cyanotoxins.  Any of the cyanobacteria toxins can be harmful to dogs and their people, and these toxins have no known antidotes.  Whether the blooms are toxic or not cannot be determined with the naked-eye, so err on the side of caution for your dog’s sake.

Water that is uncharacteristically green or has visible surface scum should be avoided. The highest concentrations of toxins are usually found in blooms and/or scum on the shoreline. These dense accumulations pose the greatest potential risks to pets and people.  Swimming, wading, and drinking the water should be avoided when signs of blue-green algae are present.

Your dog depends on you to keep him safe. He is unaware of the hazardous conditions posed by the presence of blue-green algae.  So it’s best to check out any water source you visit before you let Fido drink or swim. The consequences of blue-green algae exposure are serious.  For dogs exposed to high levels of toxin, severe illness can occur in as little as 30 minutes. Dogs that are often exposed to low levels of toxins may develop health problems such as chronic liver disease, and possibly tumors; damage that may go unnoticed until it’s severe. Canines are particularly susceptible to the toxic algae if they get it on their fur and then lick the algae off their fur and by drinking contaminated water.

Potential symptoms in dogs following exposure to blue-green algae toxins can include:


•difficulty breathing

•excessive salivation

•lack of coordination




If your dog has been exposed to blue-green algae toxin and shows any of the symptoms above, supportive care may keep your pet alive. You haven’t much time to act, so get your dog to emergency veterinarian care immediately.

Here are some measures you can do (quickly) before taking your pet in for emergency care:

•Don’t let your pet lick his/her fur. Muzzle your dog if you have to.

•Wash your pet with clean water as soon as possible, such as bottled water and towel off any visible algae (being careful not to touch it yourself).

•Do not use bleach or disinfectant to clean your dog as this will spread and release the toxins.

If your dog has ingested toxic algae, and you have activated charcoal handy, administer it and induce vomiting. Using activated charcoal will absorb the toxins and flush them from his/her system.

There is still a lot of summer left for you and your four-legged best friend to enjoy. Just remember that your dog follows your lead, so check out his water source before he plunges in for a dip or takes a sip.

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