Vet warns dog owners about dangers of blue-green algae as advisory issued for Clear Lake

A Calgary veterinarian says it's important to take blue-green algae advisories seriously when it comes to choosing where to let your dog play in the water.

On the weekend, Alberta Health Services (AHS) issued an advisory that a blue-green algae bloom has been identified in areas of Clear Lake, a popular spot near Claresholm, Alta.

Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, are photosynthetic bacterial organisms naturally found in rivers, lakes and wetlands. In warm weather, they can form blooms that may look like scum, foam or discolorations of green, blue-green, red, brown or yellow that can appear fluorescent.

AHS says people, especially children, should avoid contact with the algae, which can cause skin irritation, rashes and sore throats, sore red eyes, swollen lips, fever, nausea and vomiting and/or diarrhea.


But the blooms can also be very toxic to dogs, particularly to their livers and brains, said Dr. Dirk Dekens.

"The symptoms can come on quite suddenly," he said.

"With neurological symptoms, you will see that the dogs are going to start behaving very strangely. They might start shaking, the muscles might be tremoring, they might go into seizures, they may have a difficult time breathing, they may eventually go into a coma."

If the toxins infect the dog's liver, the main symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea, which show up within hours of exposure.  

"Time is of the essence in cases like this, one should not hesitate. Clean off the animal with fresh water and then get him into an emergency clinic ASAP," Dekens said.

AHS medical officer of health Dr. Christine Kennedy says symptoms of cyanobacteria exposure in people will generally show up one to three hours after exposure and clear up within two days.

"It is infinitely preventable [by] paying attention and not allowing your pets or your children to be going near areas that are posted with advisories, as well as keeping your eye out for signs of blue-green algae blooms in the water bodies that you frequent," she said.