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Beware of Water Scum: Most dogs love water! But before you let them in, be sure you know the water's blue-green algae status.

It's summer and your dog loves the water. He doesn't care if it's clear or green or red, it's wet, he's in! Should you be worried about a little pond scum?

Yes! Blue-green algae blooms, often referred to as HABs or "harmful algae blooms," are overgrowths of cyanobacteria. These bacteria produce powerful toxins called microcystins and anatoxins. Dogs can be poisoned by swimming in or drinking the toxin-laden water. Licking off algal mats on their fur or feet can also lead to toxicity. It only takes a tiny amount to poison your dog.

No Time to Wait

Time is of the essence if you suspect cyanobacteria poisoning. Your dog's only chance of survival is immediate emergency-veterinary care. Death can occur rapidly.

The clinical signs you will see vary with the concentration of the individual toxins. Microcystins attack the liver. The initial liver damage often progresses to fatal liver failure.

You may notice vomiting or diarrhea. The diarrhea will often have digested blood resulting in a black, tarry stool. Your dog will be weak, and his gums may range in color from vary pale to yellow from jaundice.

Neurologic signs will follow with seizures progressing to coma and often death. Diagnostic Woodwork will point out signs of liver failure.

Anatoxins go right for the nervous system. Dogs who have been poisoned will drool, tremor extensively leading to paralysis, and may have blue gums due to lack of good oxygenation. Seizures may be noted. Difficulty breathing progresses to respiratory paralysis with death in minutes to hours.

The dog may have hives or a skin rash from direct contact with the algae. These symptoms are not life-threatening but algae should still be rinsed off immediately, and you should have the dog checked by a veterinarian.

It Doesn't Take Much

Toxins do not need to be present in large concentrations. One ppb (part per billion) is like one drop in a large, in-ground swimming pool. The California Department of Environmental Protection looked at the risk for the average 40-pound dog from blue-green algal boom exposures. The microcystins (liver toxins) were toxic at 2 to 40 ppb. The anatoxins (neuro toxins) were toxic at 2 to 100 ppb. At a concentration above 100 ppb, signs were seen more rapidly.

Not all algal blooms will have toxins, but there is no way to be sure without laboratory testing.

What you may notice when you look at your pond is a foamy appearance or "colored" water. Generally, the color noted is green or blue-green, but blooms can also appear red or brown--even white if the bloom is near the end of its cycle. You might also notice "mats" of algae building up along the shoreline where they've been pushed by the wind.

Dr. Karyn Bischoff, Senior Extension Associate, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Diagnostic Toxicologist, New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center, notes that these are warm-weather threats and looks can be deceiving.

"Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) like warm weather and still water, so you expect to see blooms in late summer and early autumn, but they can occur any time the weather is warm," says Dr. Bischoff. "Since cyanobacteria can float, they often form a scum on the surface of the water that looks like spilled blue, blue-green, or brown paint. They can be pushed toward the shore by wind. These are technically bacteria rather than algae, so they form fairly small colonies not long, dense strands like many filamentous algae. However, even if you can't see the cyanobacteria, the water can still contain the toxins. After the cells die, the toxins are released and can last up to three weeks in the water, so you'd be well advised to check your local DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) website for recent blooms before allowing pets in the water."

Use Caution

How can you let your dog enjoy summer swims but minimize risk? First, check with your local DEC for reports on algal blooms. For example, New York state tracks bloom reports from May through October each year. You can even look through previous years' reports to identify "hot spots."

If you have any concerns, rinse your dog with clean water from a hose or bottled water as soon as he exits the body of water. Follow this up with a bath as soon as possible. Wear gloves yourself or be sure to rinse and wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning your dog. Use clean towels to dry your dog or a blow dryer. If you use towels, wash them as soon as possible.

Dr. Bischoff stresses to treat all your dogs who have gone into the water. "Cyanotoxins aren't well-absorbed through the skin, but dogs don't need to ingest very much to get poisoned. If more than one dog is contaminated, it's really important to prevent them from grooming until you can get them cleaned up!" Many dogs love to swim, splash or wade. Take a few minutes to check out the HAB status of the body of water you plan to allow your dogs to swim in. It could save their lives!

What You Can Do

* Check with area Department of Environmental Conservation for blue-green algae tracking before going to the water

* Be especially wary as the weather warms and the water becomes quiet

* Consider keeping your dog on a leash and away from shorelines

* Know that "blue-green" algae can also be red, brown, white, or foamy

* If your dog does get in the water, immediately wash him off with fresh, clean water and take him to the veterinarian right away, in case he ingested algae

Signs of Poisoning

* Diarrhea

* Difficulty breathing

* Disorientation

* Drooling

* Elevated heart rate

* Hives or rash

* Jaundice

* Seizures/convulsions

* Stumbling, weakness, inactivity

* Vomiting
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Title Annotation:THIS JUST IN
Publication:Dog Watch
Date:Jun 1, 2018
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