Keep Your Pets Safe from Blue Green Algae but Still Have Summer Fun

Tabatha Regehr, DVM
Associate Veterinarian
Pet Poison Helpline®

In recent weeks news agencies have reported deaths of dogs that had been swimming, drinking, or walking near the water’s edge of ponds or lakes containing blue green algae. Each of these dog’s died within hour of being in or near the water. Most people are unaware that this is a health risk to people, pets, and livestock. We are going to discuss how to continue outdoor water activities with your pet while avoiding a blue green algae exposure.

Blue green algae, also called cyanobacteria, grows mostly in fresh water or brackish water typically in more stagnant areas. It thrives in warm weather where nutrient sources are plentiful. Blue green algae commonly looks like a mat or film of scummy green material accumulating at the water’s edge. It can also appear blue-green, rusty, or brown in color. Danger to pets and people occurs when large amounts of toxin producing cyanobacteria accumulate forming what are called “algae blooms”. For more information about blue green algae toxicity in animals see our toxin profile .

Prior to heading out for water activities take a few minutes to do some internet sleuthing. Most states have blue green algae bloom maps during peak seasons. Depending on the state blue green algae blooms may be reported by different agencies or departments. Although not exhaustive start by searching state, county, or city Parks and Wildlife or Parks and Recreation departments. Also check your state’s Department of Health and Environment resources. The Army Core of Engineers may manage a lake or river in your area so check their website as well. Lastly state agricultural research and extension offices may have information regarding high risk areas.

When you arrive at popular water recreation area check the information boards at the park entrances. Restrict play to the dog park areas or marked swimming beaches. Speak with park staff if you are planning to be at the water’s edge away from posted beach areas. You should look for signs at the waterfront as well. Even if the water looks clear and clean, respect the signage and steer clear of that area.

If your pet does get into water that has been reported to contain blue green algae rinse him or her thoroughly with fresh water as soon as possible. Rinse out his or her mouth too. After rinsing well contact a local veterinary hospital or emergency veterinary hospital.

Across the country there are thousands of bodies of water from small farm ponds to the great lakes. Only small numbers of dogs become ill each year. Don’t let fear of blue-green algae keep you and your four legged friends from enjoying summer water activities. Just use caution when heading off on your adventure. There are so many memories to make with your pet, so head outside for warm weather fun.