Here in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, we are lucky enough to be able to enjoy the water with our friends and family. Especially this time of year many of our families, two legged and four, are in the water swimming, boating, or just lounging. 

The water is not without worry, though, and it is important to enjoy it responsibly. One potential peril that is not on the radar of many pet parents is cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. Highway Veterinary Hospital hopes that you will add blue-green algae toxicity to your list of things to know about for water safety. 

Blue-Green Algae Toxicity

When it comes to cyanobacteria, they are definitely not a new thing. In fact, they have been around for over 2 billion years, making them older than dinosaurs. They are one of the first organisms known to create oxygen and also one of the first to utilize photosynthesis. They are a pretty amazing lifeform.

Some species of cyanobacteria are also known to be toxic when ingested. The first scientific documentation of this comes from George Francis in South Australia in 1878. Since then we have learned that about 200 of the thousands of species of blue-green algae have the potential to be deadly.

The cells of the cyanobacterium can potentially contain a toxin that is harmful if ingested. The toxin can also be released into the water if the organism dies.

Cyanobacterial toxins can cause death within minutes, although its effects can take up to a few days if levels are lower. Blue-green algae toxicity in pets leads to liver failure.

If you plan on swimming in any of the Bay tributaries in Anne Arundel County, go to the aahealth.org website for an up-to-date recreational water quality report. 

How to Protect Your Pet

While blue-green algae toxicity is frightening, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the water this summer. Simply knowing about it does a lot to lower the risk of harm to you and your family. 

It is important to note that cyanobacterium is known to thrive in hot weather and standing water. High phosphorus levels such as those found in areas where fertilizers runoff are also at high risk of an algae bloom. Avoid these areas when possible

It isn’t difficult to spot an algae bloom – the water will literally turn a notable blue-green color. Not every algae bloom is toxic, but since it is impossible to know until toxicity occurs, it is best to avoid it altogether. 

Protect your pet by:

  • Not allowing them to enter water with algae present
  • Discourage drinking from puddles or other standing water
  • Bring plenty of fresh, clean water and offer often
  • Remove algae from any ponds or water on your property when possible
  • Block access to areas where algae thrives
  • Wash your pet’s fur after swimming
  • Use fertilizer responsibly to help minimize algae development
  • Report algae blooms 

You should call us immediately if you suspect that your pet may have had exposure to an algae bloom. Pets and people who have blue-algae toxicity have a poor prognosis, but the sooner aggressive intervention occurs the better. Blue algae-toxicity is an emergency that can’t wait

Using a little discretion, though, can help you to avoid the situation altogether and still enjoy the water this summer.