It's late summer across the country and many people enjoy the luxury of a personal or neighborhood pool. Still others hit our wonderful lakes and rivers for some summer time relaxation and these folks often bring their pets along. Sadly, a tiny microscopic organism could cause some MAJOR problems for your pet, your horse (or other livestock) or even YOU!
Headlines throughout social media are warning people to keep their pets out of waterways during blue-green algae blooms. From North Carolina to Indiana to Iowa, news teams are sharing stories of local families affected by this deadly bacteria.
Blue-green algae is actually a cyanobacteria, or microscopic organism that lives in ponds, lakes, and streams. When seeing a blue-green algae bloom, most people refer to it as "pond scum". While the algae might be blue or even bright green, some blooms look brown or even red, floating in mats or foam on the surface of the water. Winds blow these mats toward shorelines, in easy reach of pets and livestock. We most often see algae blooms like this in late summer, especially in areas where the water is stagnant and standing, is warm, and is nutrient rich.
The bacteria produce multiple toxins, some of which can affect the liver and some that can affect the nervous system. Even simple skin exposure can cause a nasty rash. Pets or other animals drinking from the water or pets who swim and then lick their coats are at risk for these toxins. Symptoms include vomiting/diarrhea, weakness, lethargy, not eating, pale or yellow gums, excessive drooling, muscle tremors, inability to walk, difficulty breathing, seizures, or even sudden death.
If you think your pet has been exposed to a blue-green algae bloom or you know he/she was drinking from a suspected source, you need to contact your veterinarian or animal emergency room immediately. There is no know antidote for the toxin, so this is an urgent situation. Some pets may need anti-seizure medications, some might need time in an oxygen cage, and most will need hospitalization with fluids and supportive care for multiple days.
If you have stagnant water on your property, you should keep pets away from the area and even fence it off if you have livestock or horses. If your pet does get into water with an algae bloom, give him or her a bath in warm, soapy water and contact your veterinarian about next steps.
You can learn more about blue-green algae toxicity at the Pet Poison Helpline website and you should monitor your state's Department of Environmental Management or Department of Natural Resources website for information in your area.