Rise in toxic blue green algae cases prompts vet warning

13 August 2019

With an increase in reports of toxic blue green algae in several locations across the UK this summer, we are urging pet owners to take extra precautions while walking their dogs in the vicinity of affected water bodies.

The warning also comes on the heels of tragic news from North Carolina, US, where three dogs on a play date died just hours after swimming in an affected pond.

Blue green algae blooms may appear as green or greenish-brown scum on the surface of water and can contain toxins that can be harmful for animals if ingested, even in small quantities. Dogs can swallow this algae by drinking water from an affected lake, river or pond or while licking their fur after going for a swim.

Symptoms of exposure can appear within a few minutes or hours, depending on the type of toxin ingested, and commonly include: vomiting, diarrhoea, drooling, disorientation, trouble breathing, seizures and blood in faeces. If left untreated, it can cause liver damage and ultimately be rapidly fatal.

The presence of blue green algae has been confirmed in water bodies in Southampton and Fleet in Hampshire, Edinburgh and Elgin in Scotland, Cornwall, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, and Lincolnshire, among other locations, this summer.

British Veterinary Association Junior Vice President Daniella Dos Santos said:

“We know that some dogs enjoy nothing better than a paddle in a cool lake while on a walk during summer months, but my advice to pet owners would be to keep your dog on a lead during walks near water confirmed to have toxic algal blooms. While not all blue green algae are poisonous, it is impossible to tell the difference visually, so it is better to be safe than sorry.

“There is currently no known antidote for the toxins, so prompt veterinary treatment is essential to tackle their effects and ensure a good chance of recovery. If you suspect your dog has been exposed to blue green algae, rush it to your local vet without delay."

Top tips to keep your pets safe:

  • Look out for any warning signs put up by the Environment Agency or local councils near water bodies.
  • Keep pets on a lead and by your side around water bodies known or suspected to have blue-green algal bloom – don’t let them swim in it or drink from it.
  • If your dog has been swimming outside, wash it thoroughly with clean water afterwards.
  • Rush your pet to a vet immediately in case you’re concerned it may have ingested toxic algae. 

Related BVA policy

BVA Media Office