Here’s what pet owners should know about toxic algae blooms

Several dogs from North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas have died from blue-green algae exposure, causing many pet owners to worry.

This month, the Virginia Department of Health posted a warning advisory that cyanobacteria, the toxic and harmful blue-green algae, was found in lakes across the state. And earlier this week, New Jersey officials shut down beaches at its largest freshwater lake after a hazardous blue-green algae outbreak.

BluePearl veterinarians are warning pet owners to keep their pets out of high-risk lakes, and advising of the potential risks of blue-green algae exposure.

Dr. Jill Niederhuth, veterinary neurologist at BluePearl, Grand Rapids, Mich., said there are two dangerous algae toxins to look out for. One algae toxin can cause liver failure and another can cause neurological toxicity, which tends to happen right away. “The toxin can paralyze their breathing muscles, so what the pet actually dies from is not being able to breathe,” said Dr. Niederhuth.

Pets who are exposed to the algae that produces neurotoxins can instantly fall ill. However, dogs exposed to the algae toxin that leads to liver failure will only begin to show symptoms a day or two after coming into contact with it.

Common signs of blue-green algae exposure:

What Pet Owners Should Do

If you think your dog has been swimming in a pond or lake with cyanobacteria, thoroughly rinse the dog with clean, fresh water. If you begin to notice strange behavior or if the dog shows symptoms of illness, immediately bring the pet to a veterinarian.

“If you have any suspicions that your dog has become sick after swimming, get them to a veterinarian and preferably a veterinarian that has the ability to do very aggressive intensive care,” said Dr. Niederhuth. “You might notice that they seem unwell, lethargic, maybe vomiting, maybe diarrhea, maybe stool that looked black,” Dr. Niederhuth added.

“I think that one of the most important questions to ask yourself is, looking at the water, would you swim in it?” said Dr. Niederhuth.

Learn more about the dangers of blue-green algae in this ABC News segment.