In the land of 10,000 lakes, there is a risk that comes with the traditional Minnesotan R & R on the water. With some of the hottest recorded years in the books already and a warm start to 2016, toxic blooms of blue-green algae present a danger for your dog. We’re here to prepare you and your pet by talking about the potential water dangers your dog may encounter this summer.
What is Blue-Green Algae?
Blue-green algae, or Cyanobacteria, is a type of algae that grows in bodies of freshwater all around the world, including Minnesota. Algae are microscopic organisms that can produce toxins if grown with the right ingredients of heat and fertilizer—toxins that are especially dangerous for pets.
Found in nutrient-rich areas in the steamy summer months, a blue-green algae “bloom” can look like blue and green paint on the surface of the water, and/or a light green layer on the surface and shorelines. (see this website for some photos of what is and isn’t blue-green algae: http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/81962.html ) Blue-green algae blooms are common in Minnesota and pose a very real danger to both people and animals that swim in, or consume water contaminated with it.
Although not every bloom of blue-green algae is toxic, the best choice is to steer clear of areas that host this potential poison. Hot weather and lakes/ponds with fertilizer run off are breeding grounds for this type of bacteria.
Signs and Symptoms of Blue-Green Algae Exposure:
There are two types of toxins that can be produced by blue-green algae and they cause different effects: liver failure and neurological damage. Physical symptoms of one or both include:
- Bloody or black stool
- Pale mucus membranes
- Blue mucus membranes, skin and/or gums
- Excessive secretion of saliva and other fluids
- Muscle tremors, paralysis or rigidness of muscles
Symptoms can set in between 12 and 24 hours in the case of liver failure and 30-60 minutes with neurotoxicity. There is no antidote for the poison, and unfortunately, most dog’s lives are lost to it.
Blue-Green Algae Action and Prevention
If you suspect or know that your pet has entered an affected body of water:
- Get them out of it as soon as possible
- Don’t let your pet lick its fur
- Rinse your pet thoroughly with clean water
- Seek advice from a veterinarian immediately
- Watch closely for symptoms
Prevention is the best measure to be taken for your pet.
Evaluate the water the dog will be in contact with
Whether it is a river, lake, or the pond in your backyard, keep an eye out for blue-green algae and keep an eye on your pet while around water sources.
Always provide fresh drinking water
Your pet will be less tempted to drink pond and lake water if you provide fresh and clean drinking water for them at all times (the Water Rover that we carry is a handy option for water on the go).
When the Lake is Clear
If the lake or other body of water is clear, you can let your dog play in it, but there are other precautions you should follow.
- Be aware of how far your dog can swim – Lakes and other bodies of water can have steep drop-offs
- Watch out for currents – To spot these, look for where waves aren’t breaking. There may be foam or sediment on water. This is most easily spotted from an elevated position.
- Use a life jacket – There are life jackets for dogs too! We carry the Outward Hound brand.
- Minimize heat exposure – Make sure you have ample drinking water and a cool spot for your dog to rest.
Swimming Alternatives for Dogs
Although a swimming pool is a convenient location to monitor your dog’s swimming time, the chemicals you treat it with could also cause harm if ingested.
Obviously, the chemicals you use to purify your pool are not meant to be consumed.
According to Natural Alternatives for Pets, Chlorine, Aluminum Sulfate, Boron Sodium Oxide, Pentahydrate, Copper Carbonate, Disodium salt of ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid dehydrate, Diammonium sulfate, Ethanolamine, Quaternary ammonium compounds, Triethanolmine and other commonly used chemicals are not healthy or simple solutions, and put your pet at risk if consumed.
Keep It Safe and Simple!
In order to minimize the risk of poison from blue-green algae and potentially harmful pool chemicals, here are a few fun suggestions to keep your dog safe without keeping them away from water completely:
- Sprinklers and hoses
Let your pup play safely in the yard with a running sprinkler or entertaining hose attachment (check out the Outward Hound Doggy Drencher at the store)
- Fill a kiddy pool
With safe water, fill a kiddy pool or a doggy pool for the day. Make sure you replace the water each play session as algae, bugs, and debris can still accumulate if left for too long.
Make the doggy bath experience more fun by moving it outside (if it isn’t already), and let them get a little dirty before they get clean.
To be safe, always rinse your dog after playing in the water, and be on the lookout for your pet’s safety. We recommend that you carry a little first aid kit in case of slight foot injury, providing clean drinking water at all times, and taking the time to find safe water for your dog to play in on a warm day.
As always, call or email us with any questions you may have regarding pet safety. Have a safe and sunny summer!