Pet Toxins & Algae Blooms - What You Need to Know

Every year, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center releases their “Top 10” list of nationwide pet toxins. We’ll cover them in this article as well as another very dangerous toxin that’s common in Oregon’s bodies of water during summer and early fall: Blue-green algae blooms.

The Hazards of Blue-Green Algae Blooms

Algae Bloom on River

According to the CDC, blue-green algae, also called cyanobacteria, are simple, plant-like organisms living in water that can rapidly grow out of control, or “bloom,” when water is warm, slow-moving, and full of nutrients. Blooms can occur in fresh water, salt water, and brackish water (a mixture of fresh and salt) around the world and can appear green, blue-green, or reddish brown.

Algae blooms have occurred in several of Oregon’s lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, and they can be very harmful to people and deadly to animals (including pets, livestock, and wildlife) if they produce toxins. Since there’s no way to tell if an algae bloom is toxic just by looking at it, it’s best to be safe and assume it is. Blooms occur more often or become more severe with warmer water temperatures, so while they can happen anytime, they most often occur from July to September.

When in doubt, keep animals out! Animals get sick when they come into contact with water or food exposed to toxic algae. That includes swimming in or drinking contaminated water. If your pet is exposed to blue-green algae, seek veterinary care immediately.

Symptoms May Include:

  • Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Skin, eye, nose, or throat irritation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shaking, trembling
  • Tremors, rigidity, paralysis
  • Neurological symptoms (including muscle weakness or dizziness)
  • Collapse
  • Liver or kidney failure
  • Death

How Can I Avoid Toxic Algae?

Brown Labrador Dog Swimming Outside in Lake

Check swimming advisories before you visit a body of water. Even if there’s no advisory for the body of water you’re visiting, if you see a bloom, keep your pets out of the water. Never let your pets have contact with water that smells bad, looks discolored, has foam, scum, mats, or paint-like streaks on the surface, or has dead fish on the shore. 

Take a look at the CDC’s Animal Safety Alert fact sheet for more information about toxic algae and how to protect your pets. The Oregon Health Authority is the agency responsible for posting warnings and educating the public about harmful algae blooms.

The ASPCA’s List of Top 10 Toxins

  1. Over the counter (OTC) medications, including ibuprofen, acetaminophen, joint rubs, and herbal supplements.
  1. Human prescription medications - always make sure your prescription medications are safely locked away!
  1. Food - particularly xylitol, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, and protein bars.
  1. Chocolate - humans aren’t the only ones who like chocolate!
  1. Veterinary products - chewable medications are tasty, and sometimes pets will eat the entire container if they can. 
  1. Household items - paint, adhesives, spackles, etc.
  1. Rodenticide exposure cases have increased. Depending on the type, mouse and rat baits can cause bleeding, kidney failure, seizures, or death. Rat poison is one of the top toxins in the state of Oregon.
  1. Plants - most of the severe cases involved cats and lilies.
  1. Insecticide - keep these poisons out of reach from your pets!
  1. Garden products - including fertilizers, herbicides, and soil enhancements.

Accidents or unforeseen events can always happen, but as long as your pet doesn’t have access to harmful things, like the ones listed in this article, you most likely won’t have anything to worry about!

Thanks to the ASPCA for their Top 10 Pet Toxins list: