Monitoring Toxic Algae: Keep Your Dogs Safe During Warm Weather

Warm weather is still in the forecast, and you may be thinking about ways to keep your pup cool.  You also may have seen the headlines—dogs becoming fatally ill after contact with water containing toxic algae. Algal blooms typically occur in lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams that are warm, get plenty of sunlight, and are rich in nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen. Dog owners should be especially wary of water that may contain this harmful algae, called cyanobacteria, which can be deadly to dogs. Consider alternatives for keeping them cool at this time of year.

The Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, which includes the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Old Dominion Phytoplankton lab, monitor water quality in Lake Anna and other bodies of water in Virginia. An advisory was recently issued for parts of Lake Anna that are experiencing a harmful algal bloom (HAB).

Cyanobacteria may not always be visible, because it can sometimes stay below the water’s surface. But it can also “look like foam, scum, or mats, particularly when the wind blows them toward a shoreline. The blooms can be blue, bright green, brown, or red. Blooms sometimes look like paint floating on the water’s surface. As cyanobacteria in a bloom die, the water may smell bad, similar to rotting plants, ” according to the Centers for Disease Control.

VDH Monitoring Harmful Algal Blooms

Don’t allow pets (or anyone else!) to play in or drink water that is discolored or where you see foam, scum or mats of algae on the surface. If you or your animals experience symptoms after swimming in or near an algal bloom, seek medical/veterinary care.

Providing access to a baby pool or offering frozen treats like Kongs (pictured) to keep your furry best friend are great options for staying cool during the dog days of summer. And always remember to bring enough fresh water for you and your dog when you’re out on summer adventures.

The Virginia Department of Health maintains an Algal Bloom Surveillance Map that is updated regularly between May and October. Currently no Fairfax County locations are identified. You can report suspected Harmful Algal Blooms online.

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