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Blue green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, is a bloom or mat of bacteria that forms on the top of water bodies near the shore. It gets its name from its very bright green to blue appearance and can be found in lakes, ponds, and rivers. These blooms typically occur during the hottest times of the year in slow moving water with a high nutrient content. Blue green algae can be made up of 30 different species of bacteria and can potentially produce cytotoxins that can be harmful to both pets and humans. Animals and humans are affected when they drink the water or inadvertently ingest water during swimming. Dogs and livestock are the most commonly affected but cats and small children can be affected as well. Not all algae blooms contain these cytotoxins but all blooms should be considered dangerous as it is impossible to tell which ones are toxic. For a more detailed description and to help with identification of blue green algae please refer to healthvermont.gov.
Although the majority of algae blooms are not dangerous the ones that produce cytotoxins can be very serious. There are two main types of toxins that can cause illness in pets, microcystins and anatoxins. Microcystins are cytotoxins that typically affect the liver. Symptoms initially begin with gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea, as well as tarry, or dark colored, stools. Other signs can include jaundice, or yellowing of the skin or eyes, protein loss, and increased bleeding. As the liver fails neurologic signs such as seizures can be seen. Signs will occur within minutes to hours and can be fatal in hours to days. The second type of cytotoxin are anatoxins and prognosis is worse if this toxin is ingested. Anatoxins typically affect the neurologic system and signs begin with drooling and excessive tears; muscle tremors or rigidity follow leading to paralysis and respiratory failure. Symptoms usually become evident within minutes and ingestion is fatal within minutes to hours.
Due to the serious nature of this toxicity it is important to act fast and be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Some toxicities can be treated and have a favorable outcome with intravenous fluids and intensive supportive care. It is important to remember that not all algae blooms are toxic but there is no way to know just by looking. If you have concerns about traveling to a body of water or area of Lake Champlain you can refer to the blue green algae tracker at healthvermont.gov/tracking/cyanobacteria-tracker or contact your state parks at vtstateparks.com. The best prevention is to stay away from any known affected areas and keep pets leashed around bodies of water that may be affected. If you have any concerns that you pet has been in water containing blue green algae or has ingested affected water, please do not hesitate to call River Cove Animal Hospital.