Red, White, and Blue-Green Algae?!

posted on July 02, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Summer heat makes you and your dog want to jump in the lake to cool off, but wait!  Are there hidden dangers lurking there?

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are microscopic bacteria found in freshwater lakes, ponds, streams, and swamps.  They “bloom” in mid to late summer months, especially in nutrient rich water.  Not all of these blooms are toxic, but without biochemical testing it is impossible to tell which are.

The toxins produced by the blooms can cause a variety of signs, depending on which toxins that particular bacteria produce.  It can cause liver disease, which may cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, blood in feces, black, tar-like stool, weakness, pale gums, jaundice (yellowing of gums, eyes, and skin), seizures, disorientation, confusion, coma, or shock.  Death can occur in a matter of days due to liver failure.

Some blue-green algae can produce even nastier toxins called anatoxins.  These cause issues with the neurologic system, and signs can include increased tear production, increased salivation, muscle tremors, muscle rigidity, paralysis, difficulty breathing, and/or blue gums and tongue.  Death can occur in minutes to hours after exposure to this toxin from blue-green algae.

There is not a specific antidote to the toxins from blue-green algae, but immediate veterinary care is very important.  Anti-seizure medication, oxygen, IV fluids, treatment of low proteins or low blood sugar, and other supportive measures are imperative to treatment.

If there is an algae scum on the water or the water has a “pea soup” look to it, stay clear, especially during the hot summer months.  If your pet is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, or if you suspect your pet has been exposed to blue-green algae, please contact us or an emergency veterinarian immediately.