All Things Pets

Why That Blue-Green Pond May Not Be the Best Place to Take Your Dog for a Swim

by Dean Oliver

Imagine it's a hot August day, and you've brought your favorite furry friend on the hiking trail with you. You come across a beautiful blue-green pond, and because your pup is dragging a bit, you decide to let him take a swim. Unfortunately, that beautiful blue-green color can be an indicator of a certain type of algae that can be poisonous, even deadly, to your pet. Here's what you need to know about blue-green algae poisoning.

What Is Blue-Green Algae and Why Is It Dangerous?

Blue-green algae is not truly a type of algae. It's a bacteria called cyanobacteria and is found in slow-moving rivers and ponds. These bacteria are present in small amounts year-round, but these small amounts are not harmful or noticeable. However, in late summer or early fall, it can undergo an "algae bloom," and reproduce enough to cause the water to turn bluish-green. The bloom can also look like pea soup or spilled paint.

In addition to creating the blue-green color, these bacteria can also produce toxins that affect nerve function and cause liver damage, skin rashes, and other problems. Your pup only needs to ingest a small amount to be affected, and the effects can appear within minutes. Not all cyanobacteria produce these toxins, but because it is impossible to tell by looking at them, it's important for you and your dog to steer clear of them.

How Is Blue-Green Algae Diagnosed and Treated?

A dog that has ingested blue-green algae can start to show symptoms within 15 minutes. If the toxins affect the brain and nervous system, the first signs may include excessive salivation or teary eyes. As the effects progress, your pup may experience disorientation, muscle tremors, staggering, and limb paralysis. If the diaphragm becomes affected, breathing can slow and eventually stop.

The other common site the bacteria attacks is the liver. When that happens, symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and tarry stools. It can also cause jaundice and low blood sugar. If not treated, the liver stops filtering toxins from the blood, and the resulting build-up can cause disorientation, seizures, and a coma.

If you think your dog may have been exposed to blue-green algae, it's important to take your dog to a veterinary hospital immediately. The longer you wait, the greater the chance of a poor outcome. If symptoms have not yet appeared, your veterinarian may be able to get rid of the toxins by inducing vomiting or pumping the stomach. If the toxins have already reached the bloodstream, supportive therapies such as intravenous fluids and blood sugar support can help support bodily functions. Muscle relaxants can help with tremors, and antiseizure drugs can help reduce seizures.

Even with aggressive therapy, if your dog is symptomatic, the prognosis is poor. So the best treatment is prevention. Avoid standing water, especially during warm temperatures. Contact a local animal care hospital to get your pup help if you notice they are experiencing any of these symptoms.