Animal Poison Control Alert: The Dangers of Blue-Green Algae
It began as an innocent walk in the park: A 9-month-old, 60 lb. German Shepherd mix went out for a stroll with her owner before spending 30 minutes alone in the backyard. When the dog reentered the house, her owner noticed that her eyes were rolling back and that her gait was uncoordinated. She also defecated in the house.
At the critical care facility, things only got worse: the pup was drooling, feverish and began seizing and vomiting. That was when veterinarians discovered the root of her illness: blue-green algae. The owner confirmed that the algae had been present in a backyard pond.
After 18 hours of critical care, including emergency intubation and ventilation for respiratory failure, the dog’s life was saved. She was discharged after three more days in the hospital, and fortunately, she is now back to her normal, happy self. But blue-green algae can form almost anywhere and can be a danger to any unsuspecting pet parent. That’s why the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) wants to keep you informed about this toxic bacterium.
Members of the phylum Cyanobacteria, blue-green algae usually form on or near bodies of water during warm weather months. It is typically found in ponds and lakes, but can also be present in oceans, fresh water, damp soil, backyard fountains and even on rocks. Dogs can develop poisoning when they drink from or swim in contaminated water sources. If consumed, blue-green algae can cause severe neurologic or liver signs. Signs of blue-green algae toxicity include:
- Excessive drooling
- Respiratory failure
- Liver failure
Prevention is key. Don’t allow your pets to drink from stagnant ponds, lakes or other bodies of water that have bluish-green scum on the surface or around the edges. Blue-green algae cells can also stick to a pet’s fur and be ingested when the animal cleans itself, so think twice before allowing your pet to jump into a body of water.
By Aly Semigran
Whether we’re hitting the beach, taking the field at a ball game, or simply heading out to run errands, we know that during the summer months wearing sunscreen is key to our health and safety. But what about our four-legged, furry friends?
In addition to providing our dogs with proper shade, air, and hydration during the summer months, sunscreen should be part of your warm-weather care routine.
Can Dogs Get Sunburned?
Just like us, our dogs can get burned from sun exposure. Millie Rosales DVM, DACVD, of Miami Veterinary Dermatology, says that a sunburned dog can suffer from red, inflamed skin that becomes irritated and painful. Sunburns on dogs can also lead to hair loss and scaly skin.
Should You Put Sunscreen On Your Dog?
Yes, you should put sunscreen on your dog.
“It’s actually very important to put sunscreen on dogs, especially those with light skin and white fur or hair,” says Richard Goldstein, DVM, and chief medical officer of the Animal Medical Center in New York City. “A dog’s skin can be damaged by the sun just like our own, so they require the same protection against the development of sunburn and skin cancer.”
Rosales points out that the common types of skin cancer in dogs associated with sun exposure are squamous cell carcinoma, malignant melanomas, hemangiomas, or hemangiosarcomas.
She urges that if a dog has to be outdoors during peak sun exposure hours (10 am to 4 pm), sunscreen should be reapplied to sun-sensitive areas of the body—the nose, around the lips, tips of the ears, the groin, and the belly—throughout the day.
Goldstein says if the dog has gone swimming, the sunscreen should be immediately reapplied.
What Kind of Sunscreen Can Be Put on Dogs?
The safest and most effective sunscreen to put on your dogs is one that is specifically designed for canine use, says Rosales. These sunscreens are designed with dogs in mind and don’t pose any health risks.
If doggie sunscreen isn’t an option, Goldstein mentions that pet parents can purchase a broad-spectrum sunscreen for babies and children with an SPF of 15 or higher at the local drugstore. But it’s EXTREMELY important for pet parents to read the labels on baby sunscreen before applying it to their pets, since dogs may lick their skin and accidentally ingest the sunscreen.
“When choosing baby sunscreen, pet owners should choose a fragrance-free product that doesn’t contain zinc oxide,” Rosales explains. “Ingestion of zinc oxide can lead to hemolytic anemia.”
Pet parents should also avoid any sunscreen that has para-aminobenzoic acid (also known as PABA) as an ingredient. This could also be toxic if ingested.
To reiterate, the following ingredients in sunscreens are toxic to dogs:
- zinc oxide
- para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
Don’t use any other type of sunscreen on your pet without your veterinarian’s approval, and never apply tanning lotions or oils to your pet.
How Should Sunscreen Be Applied to Dogs?
“When applying sunscreen to the face region it is important to be careful with it getting into the eyes,” Rosales says. “Pet owners may want to apply the sunscreen to a small area on the body first to see if it causes a reaction before using it all over the body.”
After applying sunscreen, allow the lotion or cream to soak in for several minutes and monitor your dog to be sure he or she doesn’t lick the lotion or cream, says Rosales.
Dog Breeds More Likely to Get Sunburned
“White dogs with short-hair, like Bull Terriers, Pit Bulls, Dalmatians, French Bulldogs, Greyhounds, and Boxers are more susceptible to sunburn than dogs with darker skin and thicker coats,” Goldstein points out.
Still, even though these breeds are more likely to burn, all pet parents should consider the use of sunscreen for their dogs in the summer.
Additional Sun and Heat Protection for Dogs
If a dog has to be outside during peak sun hours, pet parents can utilize accessories like bodysuits, shirts, and hats with ultraviolet protection, in addition to sunscreen to prevent sunburns. Dog goggles can also be used to protect a pet’s eyes from the sun.
In addition to potential sunburns, dogs can also experience heat stroke in the summer. Making sure your dog has access to water and shade is also an essential part of keeping your pet safe on hot days.
While adding sunscreen to your dog’s summertime safety routine is a good idea, pet owners should still be aware of the risks associated with excessive sun exposure.
“The use of sunscreen should not give pet owners the sense of security that their pet will not get skin cancer,” Rosales says. “ Keeping a dog indoors from 10 am to 4 pm is the best way to protect from the sun’s harmful rays.“