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Watch out dog owners, algal blooms could spell big trouble for your dog

Whitney Coy is a freelance writer and editor based in Columbus, OH, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She writes frequently for SheKnows, as well as several other websites. She writes on topics including parenting, pets...

Some of your favorite swim spots might not be as safe for your dog as you thought

Summer is fast approaching, the sun is out and it's time for my dog and me to start up an exercise routine again. We could both use the movement after a winter spent bundled up together on the couch, so we grabbed his leash and my old tennis shoes and headed out to our favorite spot.

We were both relieved to see that the pond in our local park had returned to its former glory after being drained and treated late last summer. Before that happened, it had turned a nasty, pea-soup-looking color and had a thin, foamy film coating the surface.

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The water was not clear like it should have been. We had no view of the fish swimming just below the surface. My dog, Max, didn't seem to notice a difference. He pulled on his leash, eager for me to release him to chase ducks and dive into the cool water.

But I didn't.

Max was none too pleased with me, but honestly, that water looked gross and I wasn't in the mood to give him a bath when we got home. We headed over to a wooded area and went for a little hike instead.

Turns out, I made a good decision, but not because of the stink that came with that water. That water could have made him really sick.

What are harmful algal blooms?

That nasty water was actually full of something called algal blooms. After long periods of warm, calm weather, bodies of freshwater become vulnerable to harmful algal blooms, toxic overgrowths of bacteria that can quickly take over ponds, rivers and lakes. These HABs can be harmful to pets, people, wild animals and livestock, so it's important to be aware of what it looks like and keep your pets clear of suspicious areas.

Water infested with harmful algal blooms may take on an artificial-looking green color, and the surface may be foamy, or be coated in a thin layer that looks like spilled paint. The water may take on a blue-green color, or even occasionally take on a brown or red tint, depending on the circumstances and level of infestation.

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Though the toxins aren't always present in the algal blooms, there's no real way to know without testing, so avoidance is probably your best bet, 

If toxins are present, the water is harmful not only if ingested, but if you (or your pet) are exposed to it at all. This includes any skin contact. Dogs have been known to eat clumps of the scum that wash up on shore, so give a wide berth to any iffy-looking water, and be sure to wash your dog's feet thoroughly when you leave — even if you don't think he got too close.

Symptoms of HAB exposure in dogs

The amount and severity of the symptoms of HAB exposure can vary according to the type of toxin, the amount of exposure and the breed, size and general health of your dog.

If your dog has been exposed, keep an eye out for these symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stool
  • Repeated vomiting of green liquid
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellowing of eyes and gums
  • Dark urine
  • No urine output
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Stumbling
  • Loss of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Trouble breathing
  • Drooling
  • Rashes and hives

Symptoms of exposure to HABs can start to present within minutes to hours of exposure, and are often deadly if left untreated. There is no at-home treatment or antidote for HAB exposure, so it's imperative that you contact professional help as soon as exposure occurs. If you suspect your dog was exposed to HABs and is experiencing any symptoms, contact your veterinarian or local pet poison hotline as soon as possible.

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