Blue-Green Algae Poisoning – The Risk of Swimming


Most people have heard about the stories circulating through Social Media about the dogs that have died shortly after a trip to the lake. 

While some stories that circulate are false or made up, these are in fact true and something that anyone who goes to a lake should be aware of. 

What is causing these dogs to die to rapidly?

The cause has been determined as blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria) toxin.

This is microscopic bacteria found in water with high nutrient levels. The toxins that are produced can be either Microcystins and Anatoxins.

The water will typically have a blue-green appearance and you may even see more concentrated areas near the shore that resemble mats. Some people describe the water as looking like there is paint floating on top.  Unfortunately, without testing the water you cannot determine if the algae is actually present and toxic.

It is most abundant during the mid-late summer. 

What are the clinical signs to watch out for?

If there are Microcystins in the water you should watch for:
  • Liver failure 
  • Vomiting/Diarrhea
  • Bloody or black tarry stool
  • Weak 
  • Pale
  • Jaundice
  • Seizures
  • With this death usually occurs in a couple of days
If there are Anatoxins in the water you should watch for:
  • Neurologic signs 
  • Blue discoloration of the skin/mucous membranes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • With this death occurs within minutes to hours of exposure 

What is the treatment?

Unfortunately, there is nothing to cure a blue-green algae poison and most dogs arrive at the hospital already deceased. 

It affects dogs so much because when they are playing in the water, they are gulping some of the water. They also lick their fur when they come out ingesting the algae. 

How can you protect your dog?

Don’t let them swim in the water especially if you have suspicion of algae. If they already went in, wash them off with clean, fresh water immediately and always wear gloves. 

If you suspect your dog was exposed bring them to the nearest veterinarian as soon as possible.

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