Blue green algae, or cyanobacteria, are a group of bacteria mostly found in stagnant water. These can contain dangerous toxins which can be harmful and potentially fatal to pets, livestock, fish, and birds if ingested, even in small quantities.
Algal bloom sightings increase in still, non-flowing, freshwater bodies in many locations across the UK during the warmer, dry summer months. They are not actually algae, but the organisms got this name because they often give the appearance of algae forming greenish-brown clumps when they gather in bodies of still water such as in still ponds and at the edges of streams, and lochs. The algae are mostly sited during the hotter, drier summer months when there is less rain. When the algae bloom, it can look like a blue-green-brownish scum has appeared on the surface of the water, with the appearance of a frothy, pea soup.
Do take extra precautions when walking dogs around any freshwater bodies during the summer months, as the warm weather conditions can increase the risk of this toxic algae growth, peaking in July and August, at the height of the summer season. Blue green algae can be very dangerous for our pets because it produces toxins that can cause Liver and other organ damage and sadly, sometimes even death.
Dogs can swallow the algae by drinking from any affected water and by licking their fur after going for a swim. It is also possible for dogs to encounter the bacteria even if they don’t go into water for a paddle, as the toxic algal “blooms” can be blown to the water's “shore” edges. Higher concentrations of the toxin are more likely to be present in the parts of the water that your dog may drink from.
Concentrations of the algae vary throughout the year, and they may not always be harmful. However, it is difficult to tell simply by looking at them whether they are dangerous or not, so it is best not to run the risk of allowing your dog to encounter any still water where the algae may be present.
It is always better to be safe than sorry, so please do keep your pet dogs on a lead during walks near any water bodies confirmed to have algal blooms in summer, and do not let your pets swim in it or drink from it.
It is important also to be aware of the symptoms of exposure. These commonly include an increased thirst, vomiting, diarrhoea, blood in faeces, weakness, collapse, excess drooling, seizures, disorientation, trouble breathing and sadly, sudden unexplained death. These symptoms can appear within fifteen minutes, or after some hours or days of exposure, depending on the type and volume of toxins ingested. The ingested cyanobacteria toxins cause liver and organ damage, which sadly can be rapidly fatal if left untreated. If your dog shows any of these symptoms after drinking from, or swimming or paddling in water, then contact your vet immediately.
If your dog encounters blue green algae, do not allow them to lick at their fur, wash them down thoroughly with fresh clean water, and call your vet. There is currently no known antidote for the toxins, so seek prompt veterinary treatment. If caught early enough, your vet will may try to make your dog sick and give supportive treatments and intravenous fluid therapy to try to counter the cyanobacterial toxin’s harmful effects. A charcoal bolus may be given to try to absorb any further toxins ingested. If your dog has developed any symptoms of poisoning, they will need hospitalisation and intensive care, which may include blood tests an intravenous fluid, anti-sickness medicines, nursing, and close monitoring. Sadly, even with the best of care, some dogs do die from blue green algae toxin poisoning, and there can be long term health problems in dogs that do survive.
Other animals can get blue green algae poisoning included cats, horses, livestock, and fish. Blue-green algae is also a health risk to humans and can sometimes cause skin rashes, sickness, stomach pains, fever, and headaches. Children are at greater risk than adults, so sensibly do not drink from, or enter, any affected or suspected water bodies.
So, to keep your pets safe, do check local council websites and always take note of any signage put up by the local authorities or landowners warning of the algae and follow all the advice and information given. Also, check out the UKCEH: the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’s: Bloomin’ Algae App: https://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/projects/bloomin-algae. If you think you have spotted blue-green algae in water and cannot see any signage, report it to the local Scottish Environment Protection Agency, SEPA, who will investigate. You can also report any sightings of suspected blue-green algae with a photograph via the “Bloomin’ Algae” App. Always be wary of any still, stagnant water bodies, such as ponds and flooded flat fields, especially in the warmer summer months. Also, always carry fresh clean water in a cool flask for your dog to drink, instead of letting them drink from any open stagnant water. Dogs who have been swimming in water can get the algae caught in their fur and can ingest it while cleaning themselves later on. So, if your dog has been swimming outside, always wash their paws and coat thoroughly with clean fresh water afterwards.
If you are concerned that your pet has any symptoms of blue green algae poisoning or has ingested algal blooms, then do contact your vet as soon as possible.