Blue-Green Algae: A Toxic Threat to Pets & Wildlife

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New England is a destination for summer fun in the sun, from famous beaches to picturesque hiking trails. This season’s warm temps are playing host to a lesser-known danger that’s toxic to animals and humans.

Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) is made up of highly toxic organisms known to cause toxicity in domestic pets, livestock, wildlife, and humans. Before taking your canine companion for a refreshing dip, look for the presence of this dangerous algae bloom.

Cyanobacteria are most commonly seen in freshwater during periods of warm, sunny weather. The algae can thrive in summer temperatures as low as 75 degrees.

Scout your surroundings

Bodies of fresh water containing blue-green algae blooms will commonly appear as a pea-green color with a slime-like surface. Depending on the water current and wind, the filmy algae will concentrate along the shoreline.

In areas with known outbreaks of cyanobacteria, the water may be tested by the local health department. When the algae are detected, signs will often be posted. If there are no posted warning signs, it is still best to look at the water and shoreline before allowing pets to enter or drink.

Dogs who are in contact with cyanobacteria from swimming in or drinking contaminated water can suffer from severe neurological symptoms or liver damage. Algae cells can also cling to fur, getting ingested when animals groom themselves. After swimming, rinse your dog’s fur with fresh water to remove any bacterial hitchhikers.

Symptoms of cyanobacteria toxicity include:

  • Seizures
  • Panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Respiratory failure
  • Diarrhea
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Liver failure

Many of these symptoms can quickly become life-threatening. If you suspect that your pet has come into contact with a contaminated water source, contact your veterinarian immediately, as well as the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

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