Security and Safety

Keep Your Dog Safe from Toxic Algae Blooms

By Peter Simek 4.13.20

It sounds like a scene out of a horror movie: A dog owner is walking with her pet along the shore of a familiar lake, when the dog leaps into a body of water whose surface is thick with a strange, greenish goo. Minutes later, the dog begins acting strangely, drooling and shivering. Within a few hours, the poor creature is dead.

It’s a horrible scene, but last summer, dog owners throughout Texas experienced exactly this, thanks to the spread of a mysterious toxic algae that has begun to affect some of Texas’ waterways. And Texas is not alone.

Last year, dogs in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia also died after swimming in waters affected by toxic algae. What’s even more frightening is that scientists aren’t exactly sure what the algae is or what is causing its spread. Cities are struggling to respond. So how do you keep your pets safe? Here’s what pet owners should know about these toxic algae blooms and how to avoid the threat.

A Mysterious Killer

Toxic algae blooms are bacteria that grow in both marine water and freshwater, and are lethal to mammals. The algae aren’t toxic to humans unless ingested. Dogs are particularly vulnerable because when they swim they ingest some water.

The blooms are not entirely new; they have been reported at small rural lakes in the past, and occasionally at larger recreational facilities. However, those blooms used to last a few days. During last summer’s outbreak, they lingered and didn’t disperse for weeks on end, which increased exposure.

An Increased Threat

Scientists haven’t been able to identify the exact strain of bacteria, and they believe several factors may be contributing to its spread. Long, hot summers characterized by limited rainfall may be the culprit, and because scientists expect these conditions to endure and intensify, they expect algae blooms will also increase in frequency. Fertilizer runoff may also be feeding the growth.

Tough to Spot

One of the challenges of keeping dogs safe from toxic algae is that it can be difficult to spot the blooms. Often the algae look like a bluish-green slime on the surface of water, but they can also be present in water that looks clear to the naked eye. Even cities have had trouble identifying toxic algae because they lack the necessary equipment to test for it.

Avoid Danger

Here are some tips you can use to keep your pet safe:

  • If water is foamy or discolored, it is best to avoid it. Keep in mind that toxic algae may also be clear.
  • Keep your dog out of bodies of water that aren’t free-flowing streams. Still or stagnant water offers the best conditions for the growth of algae.
  • If you see dead fish in the water or suspect a harmful algae bloom, report it to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department via their 24-hour hotline: 512.389.4848.

Act Quickly

If your dog has swum in a questionable body of water, watch closely for symptoms, which can express within minutes or hours. These include excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, foaming at the mouth, bloody urine, jaundice, stumbling, loss of appetite, abdominal tenderness, and muscle twitches.

Time is of the essence after exposure. It’s essential that you bring your dog to a veterinary ER as quickly as possible, where a veterinarian may pump your pet’s stomach, force vomiting, or administer a charcoal that absorbs the toxins.

Find more on keeping your furry friends safe here.

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