The vet’s office: Keeping your dog safe on the water
By Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
Blue-green algae can make a stream or lake a source of toxins harmful to pets. These algae are not plants but rather a type of bacteria called cyanobacteria. They live in the water in a natural balance with the ecosystem and do not cause harm themselves. But when certain conditions of heat and abundance of nutrients are found, they can multiply quickly and produce toxins.
Mid-to-late summer is a common time for blooms. These bacterial blooms are seen as mats on the water surface when they float, and they can color the water blue-green or pea green. Blooms can also have a swampy odor. Most blue-green algae blooms do not produce toxins, but it is impossible to tell just by looking at the water if toxins are there or not.lue-green algae can make a stream or lake a source of toxins harmful to pets. These algae are not plants but rather a type of bacteria called cyanobacteria. They live in the water in a natural balance with the ecosystem and do not cause harm themselves. But when certain conditions of heat and abundance of nutrients are found, they can multiply quickly and produce toxins.
Dogs that swim in and drink from waters containing the toxins are exposed to both internal and external poisoning. The smaller size of pets means that they do not have to ingest as much as people in order to become ill. Plus, dogs do not often mind drinking smelly, discolored water or licking algae off their fur.
Signs of toxicity will vary depending on the type and level of toxin in the water, how much the dog has ingested, the size of dog, and sensitivity of the individual dog. Common signs of toxicity are vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, skin rash, general weakness, liver damage, and seizure. Dogs may exhibit blood in stools; have black, tarry stools; or present either pale or yellow-tinged gums. If liver failure occurs, the dog can die within a few days. Some toxins act as neurotoxins and cause muscle tremors, excessive drooling, paralysis or rigid muscles, and coma.
There are some things pet owners can do if they think their dog had a recent exposure but is not exhibiting any signs of toxicity. They should try to quickly rinse off their pet with fresh water and then contact emergency veterinary services for help with oral exposure. Dogs that swallowed water would be induced to vomit, and charcoal may be given orally to bind toxins in the intestines.
If the dog is already showing signs of poisoning, rapid and aggressive emergency care is needed. Blood tests would be done to assess liver function, blood sugar, and blood clotting abilities. There is no antidote for the toxin, and despite treatment, some dogs may not survive.
Resources on the web show what blue-green algae can look like. There are also photos of harmless plants and algae that can be mistaken for the toxic-producing forms. If you suspect blue-green algae is present, keep your pets out of the water to be safe.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.