Toxic algae, what is it and why is it dangerous to your dog

We have yet to see summer in parts of New Zealand this year but we live in hope that it is still coming! When it does (positive thinking in action) our waterways will grow what is called toxic algae. We see headlines warning of toxic algae but do you really know why it is dangerous? Why should we not let our dogs swim in rivers during the warmer months?

Toxic algae is a bacteria called cyanobacteria and can be lethal to dogs, horses and livestock. There are up to 30 different types of bacteria that fall under cyanobacteria. Some toxic algae are neurotoxic, as they affect the nervous system; others are hepatotoxic and affect the liver and digestive tract. The bacteria become toxic algae in waterways during the warmer months or where the flow of water is poor. You can usually see it in the form of brown, greenish or black slime covering rocks in the water or on the shoreline. It also appears on surfaces of stagnant or slow moving water.

The Greater Wellington Regional Council have put up a helpful video on YouTube showing you what to look for

Most poisonings occur when an animal drinks affected water or by eating the dried scum on waterway edges. The neurotoxic algae is extremely fast acting and can affect your dog, horse or livestock within minutes of ingestion. As the Pet Poison Line states

“Anatoxins result in neurotoxicity evidenced by excessive secretions (e.g., salivation, lacrimation, etc.), neurologic signs (including muscle tremors, muscle rigidity, paralysis, etc.), blue discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes, and difficulty breathing. Death follows within minutes to hours of exposure as a result of respiratory paralysis. Livestock that graze around affected ponds or lakes and are able to drink from them are often found dead near the water source. Treatment includes anti-seizure medication, oxygen, and aggressive care by your veterinarian.”

The hepatotoxic type of toxic algae causes vomiting and diarrhea. Greater Wellington Regional Council advise:

"If you suspect that your dog has eaten toxic algae, you should treat it like an emergency and contact your vet immediately. In extreme cases death can occur within 30 minutes after the first signs of illness appear. Signs a dog has been poisoned by toxic algae include lethargy, muscle tremors, fast breathing, twitching, paralysis and convulsions."

Another illness toxic algae can cause is septic arthritis. This is an extremely painful illness and is caused from bacteria entering the body through a wound or from infected gums where the bacteria enters the bloodstream and end up in a joint. Symptoms of septic arthritis are high temperature, lethargy, diarrhea and or vomiting, joint pain. If your pet shows any of these signs and you recall them walking through smelly water, even puddles of old water, ask your vet to check for septic arthritis. The sooner this condition is diagnosed that better the chances for full recovery.

Treatment options

Immediate veterinary treatment is required for ingested toxic algae. Once your pet has been diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian you can also help by improving your pet’s immune system and ensuring all of the bacteria has passed through your pet’s body. There are natural health options for pain relief, liver support, gut repair, improving immune system and supporting the body to rid infection. Contact me for more information.


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