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All You Need To Know About Blue-Green Algae Poisoning In Dogs

blue green algae poisoning in dogs

Algae poisoning in dogs is a rare condition that occurs when your dog ingests certain types of algae. When this happens, the toxins can lead to seizures and liver failure. You may not know if your dog has been poisoned until symptoms start to show, which means it’s important for you to be able to identify the signs of poisoning before they become life-threatening

Algae are found all over the world – on rocks, plants, soil and water bodies like ponds or lakes. While some algae are harmless, others contain neurotoxins that can affect your pet’s central nervous system and cause neurological damage causing convulsions and eventually death if left untreated.

Algae poisoning in dogs is a type of toxic ingestion that involves eating algae. When an animal ingests the toxins from these types of algae, it can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain. There are specific treatments for the condition which may include hospitalisation or intravenous fluids.

Here I will outline what you need to know about algae poisoning in dogs.

What is Algae Poisoning in Dogs

There are actually two types of algae poisoning. The first is caused by a type of toxin that is found in the algal blooms called diatoms. The second type, however, is caused by a type of cyanobacteria that is often referred to as blue-green algae or generally just algae. Now, it’s important to note that not all types of algae are toxic. For example, some types of macroalgae produce toxins when they are stressed or heated.

What Makes Algae Toxic?

This is actually rather interesting, as unlike the plants we normally consume, they are able to produce their own toxins thanks to a chemical process known simply as nitrogen fixation. This process is when certain algae take in nitrogen that is either dissolved or trapped in the sediments and then convert it into useful energy for growth. While this is happening, however, they also release a toxin called anatoxin-a. This type of toxin can be dangerous to animals and humans who come into contact with it, as it affects the central nervous system by slowing down nerve impulses and causing muscle paralysis that can eventually lead to death from respiratory failure.

While there are over 200 types of cyanobacteria, they can be very difficult to distinguish from algae so when you’re walking your dog near a body of water it’s not uncommon for them to ingest various types of toxic algae.

The illness-causing toxins in algae are microcystins and anatoxins.

Microcystins can cause:

  • liver damage and possible liver failure
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea and or bloody diarrhoea
  • pale or jaundice gums ( mucous membranes)

Anatoxins can cause these neurological issues:

  • muscle tremors
  • seizures
  • paralysis

What Does Blue-Green Algae Look Like?

This is actually a good question as most of us have never seen blue-green algae, but that doesn’t mean we can’t figure out what it looks like. Blue-green algae are often very green and slimy where they grow directly on the water’s surface or on the sides of stream banks, ponds, lakes, etc. It looks like a a pea-soup ‘scum’ on the water. Algae also has a strong odour, so if you smell something in the air that smells like rotten eggs, it’s probably blue-green algae.

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One other thing to note is that when their cells are broken down they turn a brownish colour which is another reason why they are sometimes called brown algae. They often appear rather large and visible. For example, one type of deadly blue-green algae called Anabaena flos-aquae can quickly grow to cover an entire pond in a day. 

Now, we know what blue-green algae looks like but does your dog? If he or she is a strong swimmer (especially if they love to play fetch in the water) then there’s a chance they could ingest some of it.

blue green algae poisoning in dogs 1
Blue Green Algae looks like pea soup scum and smells putrid

How Dangerous is Algae to Dogs?

The good news about algae poisoning is that it doesn’t happen too often in dogs but when it does, the results can be devastating. The reason for this is because many dogs are attracted to playing with their ball or stick in the water, which puts them at risk for inhaling or ingesting the algae. If that happens, it won’t be too long before they start showing signs of poisoning.

Signs of Algae Poisoning

While it may take from a couple hours up to 5 days for an animal to show signs, this type of algae poisoning will produce the following symptoms:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pain
  • trouble breathing
  • excessive thirst and/or hunger

How To Treat Algae Poisoning

If you suspect that your dog has been poisoned due to algae, then you’ll need to take them to your vet immediately. If caught early enough, they will be given activated charcoal mixed with a solution that is also used to flush toxins from the body. This solution is called sodium sulfate decahydrate. The dog will be monitored closely and intravenous fluids may be needed to keep them hydrated as well as treatments for other symptoms, such as pain and breathing issues.

The vet may also try to induce vomiting if they suspect that your dog has ingested a large amount of algae. If this doesn’t work, they may insert a tube down the animal’s nose and into their stomach to try and remove any toxic residue from within the body.

Recovery From Algae Poisoning

As with many poisonous situations, treatment will vary according to what type of algae your dog ingested as well as their overall health and age. However, it’s important to note that even with treatment dogs can still experience some long-term damage such as muscle spasms or nerve damage.

If your dog has ingested blue-green algae , then they may have also been exposed to cyanotoxins. Cyanotoxins can be much more dangerous than the algae itself and will affect your pet’s heart, liver, lungs, and nervous system.

If you suspect that your dog has ingested blue-green algae or any other type of toxic algae , then you should immediately take them to your vet for treatment. They may induce vomiting before giving activated charcoal and/or an intravenous flush. They may also use a tube to drain fluid that has built up in the stomach or intestines as well as other treatments for symptoms such as pain.

Recovery will vary depending on how quickly you get your dog to the vet, the type of algae involved, their overall health, and age .

How To Prevent Algae Poisoning

One way to prevent your dog from getting poisoned by algae is by making sure they don’t have access to it when you’re not around. For example, if you go for a walk on the beach with your dog, make sure that they are not near any type of algae, as pets tend to lick things that they find while exploring. When you are around, keep an eye out and stop them if they get close to any algae because even just licking can be enough for them to become ill. Make sure you clean up after them and give them fresh water after any walks in the forest or on the beach.

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While some algae may not be dangerous, it is important that you never let your dog swim in these regions, especially if the water is thick or discolored. Blue-green algae release large amounts of toxins when they are agitated so keeping pets away from ponds where there are visible signs of algae growth can help to prevent algae poisoning.

If your dog has been exposed to toxins, then you should also try and remove as much of the toxic substance from their fur and skin as possible. You can do this by gently rubbing them with a towel or similar material. This will help to limit absorption into the animal’s body, but it is still important that you take them to the vet as soon as possible.

If your dog’s water bowl tastes or smells like algae, then you should get rid of it immediately and find a new one that is free from toxins.

blue green algae poisoning in dogs beach
Tractor cleaning up dangerous algae on the beach

Wrapping Up

It’s important to know the signs of algae poisoning in dogs and how you should respond if they happen. You’ll notice that your dog will have trouble breathing, vomiting, or diarrhea and may even be experiencing seizures. If this happens, get them to a vet as soon as possible so that they can induce vomiting with activated charcoal mixed with a solution used for flushing toxins from the body. The vet may also insert a tube down their nose into their stomach if they suspect the animal has swallowed large amounts of toxic substances. 

Even after treatment there is still potential long-term damage such as muscle spasms or nerve damage depending on what type of algae was ingested by your pet and what other symptoms are present. 

To prevent exposure it’s best not to let your dog get close to algae-rich areas as well as cleaning up after them if they do. Most importantly, don’t let your dog drink from a body of water with visible signs of blue-green algae because this is when cyanotoxins are most likely to be present.

It’s also important that you keep an eye on the safety of your pets’ kennel and water bowl.If your dog’s bowl smells or tastes like algae, then get rid of it immediately and find a new one that is free from toxins.

If you suspect that your dog has been exposed to toxic algae, take them to the vet as soon as possible to minimise the potential damage.

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