The Dangers Of Cyanobacteria: What Pet Owners Need To Know 

Cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, is a form of bacteria that flourishes in warm water. It emits a poison that is harmful—and perhaps fatal—to both humans and animals. As you may have heard, it exists in many lakes and ponds. All pet owners should be aware of this, but it’s especially important for those who take their dogs swimming in freshwater. Continue reading to learn more about this hazardous poison from a local Smyrna, GA veterinarian.

What is Cyanobacteria?

This species of algae is especially harmful because it produces a specific toxin. Blooms can occur if the average water temperature exceeds 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which is when many bodies of water are nutrient-dense. Here in Georgia, that gives us a pretty long window where contamination is a concern. The peak of the summer months, particularly during and immediately following the dog days of summer, are especially perilous. It is most commonly seen in shallow lakes and ponds. When the conditions are ideal, blooms can expand rapidly.

How Can I Tell If a Lake Is Safe For Fido?

If you smell a swamp odor or see the telltale green scum, you should assume the lake is dangerous. However, you may not see the bloom. Smaller ones aren’t visible, but are still dangerous. 

Look for public signs: many local governments will publish notices once blooms are confirmed. You can also refer to the HAB (Harmful Algae Blooms) map, which can be found here. This website gives updates on blue-green algae blooms in all states.

Cyanobacteria: How Dangerous Is It?

Blue-green algae is extremely toxic to humans and pets. Exposure may cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, skin rashes, eye and throat irritation, and respiratory discomfort. It may also result in major brain issues and/or liver failure. Exposure to large concentrations of algae can be lethal. Unfortunately, no antidote exists.

Dogs and animals are particularly vulnerable because they don’t know any better than to drink the water and can consume a large amount before you can stop them.

Should You Swim In Lakes With Cyanobacteria?

Absolutely not. Part of the problem here is that blooms may be present but undetectable. Even if a lake or pond appears to be safe, conduct your own research and consult with local resources. Stick to areas that have been cleared for swimming.

How Do I Know If Blue-Green Algae Are Present?

Blue-green algal blooms are typically easy to identify and smell. Cyanobacteria is known as blue-green algae for a good reason. The blossoms frequently resemble pea soup or green paint. They also frequently produce a smelly, marshy stench.

However, you cannot judge lakes or ponds solely on their appearance. Smaller blooms may not be visible to the naked eye.

What Are the Warning Signs of Exposure in Dogs?

It is always vital to keep a close eye on your pet and look for indicators that something is wrong. Watch for symptoms such as panting, respiratory issues, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness/disorientation, and excessive drooling. Seizures are another warning indication. If you observe any of these warning signs in your canine companion, contact your veterinarian or an urgent care pet facility immediately.

As previously stated, there is no antidote. However, appropriate supportive care can make a significant difference. Contact your veterinarian for further information.

How is Cyanobacteria Consumed?

Drinking contaminated water is perhaps the most common way dogs get sick, but it isn’t the only one. Toxins can also be ingested by humans and pets through the skin or by inhaling water droplets or mist. That implies you can get polluted while tubing, water skiing, swimming, floating, or boating.

Pets can become ill after being immersed in water, even if just wading a bit. They may later lick the cyanobacteria off their fur.

What Should I Do If My Pet Comes into Contact with Cyanobacteria?

The first step should be to thoroughly wash Fido. We strongly recommend calling your veterinarian as well. You may find yourself in a waiting game as you look for potential symptoms to emerge.

Regardless of whether Fido swims in a pool, lake, or beach, we always recommend cleaning him off afterward. Removing sand, salt, and/or chemicals from his fur and skin will help keep him clean and comfy.

How Long Does a Blue-Green Algae Bloom Last?

Individual blooms only survive for a week or two. However, when the conditions are right, they can be quickly replaced by another. For practical reasons, lakes might remain poisoned for weeks or months between mid-to-late summer and early autumn.

Is It Possible To Get Rid Of Cyanobacteria By Boiling Water?

No. This is vital to understand if you enjoy camping with Fido and frequently boil water from lakes or ponds to drink. Boiling may destroy live bacteria and microorganisms, but it does not eliminate cyanobacterial toxins.

What Otherwise Should I Do to Keep Fido Safe at the Lake?

Cyanobacteria is not the only potential threat to lakes. Swimming can be a lot of fun for Fido, but it can also be very dangerous. Some dogs aren’t made for it. If your dog is brachycephalic or has movement limitations, he will do better splashing around in a kiddie pool. 

Very small dogs are also not safe in the water because they can get above their heads in just a few inches. See your veterinarian if you’re unsure whether swimming is appropriate for your pup.

If your furry friend doesn’t know how to swim, take the time to teach him. Never throw a puppy into the water and hope for the best! Encourage him as he learns by offering praise and comments.

Keeping a watchful eye on Fido while he’s in the water is also critical. Never leave your dog unattended near the water, even for a minute! You should avoid taking him anywhere with blue-green algae blooms, as well as places with steep drops, large wakes, or strong currents. Red tides are also a risk for anybody going to the beach this summer.

Your canine buddy should also understand basic obedience instructions like Sit, Stay, and Come. This is critical because it can help prevent your dog from approaching a potentially unsafe person, place, or thing. If you’re taking your pup to the pool, take the time to show him where the stairs are.

Finally, do not allow your canine buddy to drink water from lakes, ponds, or puddles. In addition to the risk of cyanobacteria, Fido may develop parasites like Giardia. And, of course, here in Georgia, there are also risks of gators and poisonous snakes.

Conclusion: Blue-green algae, often known as cyanobacteria, are harmful algae that bloom in many lakes and ponds during the summer. It is particularly harmful for animals, as they of course can’t read warning signs. In fact, exposure can be lethal to our canine companions. Pet owners must be aware of the dangers and understand how to spot and avoid blooms.

Schedule An Appointment At Your Smyrna, Ga Pet Hospital.

Is your canine companion due for a checkup? Is Fido due or overdue to come in for wellness care, vaccinations, or parasite control? Please feel free to contact us, at your local Smyrna, GA animal clinic, at any time. We are always happy to help! 

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