You may have heard about pet dogs getting sick and even dying soon after swimming in neighborhood ponds and lakes. These illnesses and deaths have been attributed to toxic algae in the waters. This is by no means a new threat.

Algae blooms are common when weather is warmest. Similar to the algae causing red tide on our coasts, bacteria are also causing havoc in our fresh bodies of water. Due to the changing climate, the number of occurrences and intensity of toxic algae blooms in our waters are expected to increase.

According to the Environmental Working Group, 2019 is seeing a record-breaking number of algae blooms when compared to the years prior. Warmer bodies of water combined with lawn and farm nutrient runoff stimulates the growth of algae and triggers the production of toxin.

Symptoms of toxic algae exposure seen in pets vary depending on what algae they are exposed to. In some cases, dogs exhibit neurological symptoms (staggering, drooling or suffering seizures) minutes after exposure. Others may show signs of liver and gastrointestinal damage (vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, not wanting to eat) later in the day. In either case, poisoning may be fatal to your pet.

Immediate veterinary treatment is essential to saving your pet’s life from algae toxin poisoning. Unfortunately, there are no specific cures. They will need to be intensely medically managed for their specific symptoms.

To reduce your dog’s risk of being exposed to toxic algae, keep your dog on a leash to prevent her from jumping into a body of water that may have the poisonous bacteria. Keep your dog away from bodies of water that looks slimy or has foam or scum on its surface. Also, avoid bodies of water that have a foul smell or if it has a strange color, like blue, bright green, brown or red.

If you think your pet has been exposed to toxic algae, remove them from the source immediately and rinse them off thoroughly with clean water. Make sure to rinse their mouth as well. Monitor for the symptoms mentioned above. It is recommended to take your pet to the veterinarian immediately even if symptoms are not seen right away. Getting ahead of symptoms preventively will always result in a better prognosis when compared to treating a symptomatic pet.

Until a permanent solution is found to control algae blooms and their effects, we must remain vigilant on our pets’ exposure to contaminated waters. To find out more information on the toxic effects of Algal blooms and what you can do to minimize your risks, visit www.cdc.gov.