Algae Blooms That Are Harmful to Dogs

Two dogs swimming

For all of us here at Petswelcome, August is the heart of summer. A time filled with long hot days when the outdoors calls to get out and explore with our best buddies. It could be as simple as hitting a local park, wooded area or hiking trail to enjoy all nature has to offer. It’s a rite of summer, one that embodies the carefree spirit that makes this time of year so special. And, best of all, you don’t have to feel guilty. Just think of it as your seasonal responsibility to your dog.

Unfortunately, though, you need to be on guard. Many dog owners have been reporting that their pets have become seriously, sometimes fatally, ill by swimming in lakes and ponds that contain algae blooms that are harmful to dogs. Because of climate and change and increased pollution, it is becoming a more common occurrence and one you should be aware of.

Dog jumping in water

The Threat

The health threats posed by these algae blooms that are harmful to dogs are turning up all around the country and cover the gamut from skin rashes to liver damage to respiratory failure. The New York Times reports on one woman who lost three dogs after they swam in a pond that had a bloom of what is typically called blue-green algae. This algae, however, is not an algae at all but is actually bacteria called cyanobacteria that produce toxins that cause adverse reactions in animals. While they also can affect people, the consequences are often more dire in canines because they are more likely to swallow it while swimming or ingest it by licking their coats after coming out of the water.


Symptoms, which can occur minutes after exposure, include vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing and seizures. If your dog gets into a pond or lake that looks like it might have a bloom, you should wash it off as soon as possible. If he shows any symptoms, you should take him to a vet immediately.

What Water to Avoid

Unfortunately, there is no definitive way of being able to know whether a bloom is toxic by looking at it. Obvious warning signs would be water that has a pea-soup consistency. If you come across ponds or lakes that have this characteristic, it is best to steer clear as they have a greater chance of containing algae blooms that are harmful to dogs. However, tainted water might not always be apparent. It might look clear but bacteria could be attached to objects below the surface or be more visible on another side of the pond.

Dog with life vest standing near water

Some Simple Tests

If you have a local pond or lake that you visit regularly, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency offers simple no-cost tests that can help determine if it contains toxins. While they stress that the tests are not a hundred-percent, they are a good way to make a more definitive analysis and help you achieve greater peace of mind. As with all potential hazards, knowledge, awareness and a healthy dose of vigilance will go a long way to ensure you and your pet avoid serious harm, sickness, or worse.

So heed the call and get some fresh air (and water) with your favorite animal! Summer is quickly passing, so now is the time to revel in the many outdoor joys, delights and rewards this great season has to offer.

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