It’s algae season! Again!
Blue-green algae season comes every year, and in some places it’s more or less year round. Outside of traditional blue-green algae, new strains have emerged as threats in recent years every pet parent should definitely be aware of.
Let’s talk algae.
What is toxic algae?
Algae is a simple, usually-aquatic plant that lacks stems and roots. It thrives in stagnant water but can be commonly found in lakes, streams, rivers, and even on the coast. Algae is most active and prolific when the weather, and therefore water, is warmest, which is why it’s such a problem for pets in California and other warm weather states.
Not all algae are toxic. Certain types of algae called cyanobacteria produce toxins that can make people and animals sick, but it’s not easy to tell which are which without scientific testing. While most green algae you see is probably harmless, toxic algae of all colors is becoming more and more prevalent.
Is that the same thing as a “HAB?”
HAB stands for “Harmful Algal Bloom.” It’s an acronym used by the scientific community to refer to any algal bloom that is potentially toxic to people or pets. Once a bloom is detected, it’s usually best to let it get rid of itself naturally. Here in California, the government keeps a current HAB Incident Report Map for reference in case you want to check to see if the body of water you’re visiting has toxic algae present. Sometimes visible warning signs are posted; sometimes they’re not. It’s important to remember that only some – usually large, usually publicly accessible – bodies of water are frequently tested for HABs.
How are pets at risk?
Toxic algae affects dogs more than cats, primarily because dogs are more likely to encounter HABs outdoors. There are more ways than you think for pets to come in contact with harmful algae. Dogs in particular might go swimming in affected lakes or ponds, and they’re highly likely to actually lick any residual algae off their fur after swimming. Some pets ingest algae by drinking water from fish ponds or fountains. Some are given algal supplements by their well-meaning owners that can actually be contaminated.
What can toxic algae do to my pet?
It’s not pretty. In a matter of hours or days, a pet who ingests harmful algae can experience vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, eye/nose/mouth/throat irritation, headache, allergic skin rash, mouth ulcers, flu-like symptoms, difficulty breathing, seizures, or even death. Point in fact, 17 dogs died from exposure to HABs in 2017. If you notice your pet experiencing any of these symptoms after drinking water or swimming outdoors, contact your veterinarian immediately.
How can I keep my pet safe?
Great question! The easiest way, of course, is through prevention. Here are a few tips to keep your pets (And your kids! And yourself!) safe from poisonous algae this year.
- Never touch or go swimming in water that is stagnant or appears to have floating algae, including a “scum” on top
- Wash yourself and your pets thoroughly with clean water after playing in or near water outdoors
- Don’t feed your pet shellfish or fresh fish that may have come from contaminated waters
- If you feed your pet algal supplements, check with your vet to see if they’re known to be safe and made in an environment that screens for toxins
Wondering if algae is making your pet sick?