Q: I heard there is an algae that is killing dogs in several parts of our country. Do you know anything about this? I was going to take my dog to play in a pond by my house yesterday but changed my mind after I heard the news from a friend. What do you think?
A: Yes, I too have heard about an algae bloom recently that is quickly fatal to pets after they swim in water or drink it. To date we have not seen any cases at our practice that I know of, but any nonflowing body of water can develop a toxic growth that causes sickness and death.
Here is what we know. In the late summer and fall, when the weather is warm and drier in ponds and lakes, bacteria levels tend to get higher. As they get higher the bacteria tend to clump together and can look like algae on the water’s surface. The term “blue-green algae” has been used to describe the visible clumps, but it is actually bacteria, not true algae, that they are seeing.
The responsible bacteria is a cyanobacteria. Clumps of it can look like green flakes, green bundles or brown dots usually toward the edges of the pond. It can look like foam too and often has a foul smell.
The bacteria release toxins called microcystins and anatoxins. Both of these toxins can produce a variety of signs in pets and people too. People can develop GI signs and rashes after exposure.
Clinical signs of exposure in animals include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, confusion, seizures and death. These clinical signs can occur in as little as 15 minutes to 1 hour post exposure. Acute liver failure is often the cause of death with little to be done medically to help the pets.
So I would be careful about allowing your pet to swim in stagnant bodies of water that have anything floating at the surface that you can see or smell.
Remember, too, that this level of bacteria develops over time. Even if you have let your pet swim safely in a pond at one time earlier this year, that same pond may develop a blue-green algae situation later in the year and become deadly. I was told a story out of North Carolina about a family that lost all three of their dogs in one day after an innocent day playing in the water. Heartbreaking!
As always, be careful and monitor where your pet plays and goes. If you have any concerns about a potential exposure immediately take your pet to their veterinarian for an evaluation. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Good luck.