The warm weather of the summer and early autumn is a great time to get out and about with your dogs, but it can also lead to hidden dangers, especially in lakes and ponds. Warm dry weather can lead to blooms of what are called blue-green algae, or to give it its scientific name, cyanobacteria, and this can be dangerous, or even fatal to dogs.

What is blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae is a naturally occurring bacteria that appears in waterways across the UK. This summer the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has had reports of the algae from Edinburgh to Southampton, Lincolnshire to Cornwall. It usually occurs in still water, such as lakes and ponds, particularly at the downwind end of the feature, although it can also build up in slow moving rivers. The blooms are affected by a number of factors including water temperature, available nutrients and the amount of rainfall, with hot, dry spells creating the perfect conditions.

Symptoms to look out for

Blue-green algae is toxic to both people and animals, although it tends to cause more severe reactions in pets. Dogs can often ingest the algae while swimming or splashing around in water or may swallow it while grooming after a swim. If your dog has been in water where you suspect there may be blue-green algae, look out for the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Diarrhoea
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures

What to do if your dog is exposed

If you think your dog has been in water that contains blue-green algae, then you should rinse them down with clean water as soon as possible, to prevent further ingestion. If you spot any of the symptoms above, then you should contact your vet immediately. Dr Mike Bowes from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology explains, “Blue-green algae are potentially fatal to animals. They produce toxins which (if left untreated) can cause damage to the liver or nervous system”.

How to keep your dog safe

There is no way to tell if the algae in your local waterway is toxic or not, so it is best to err on the side of caution and keep your dog on a lead whenever you are near water. Where there is a known outbreak, the Environment Agency will often put up signs warning dog owners, or close areas around lakes and ponds completely.

There is no known antidote to the toxins contained in blue-green algae, so it is best to avoid contact in the first place. To keep your dog safe, you need to be in control of them at all times, even when they are enjoying a run off the lead in parks and woodlands. This includes making sure they obey recall commands when they go near water. You should also carry fresh water with you on your walks, to reduce the risk of your dog wanting to drink from affected ponds or streams.

A&T Trained Dogs can provide one-to-one dog training courses and residential dog training courses to help you get the control you need to manage your dog properly when you are out and about. Our experts will give you the confidence to let your dog off for a run, knowing that you can call them back at any time if they stray near danger. Given the risks of illness, and even death, from blue-green algae, professional dog training is a small price to pay for peace of mind.