The warmer weather makes you want to go to the ocean or a lake to enjoy some time in the sun and water with your pet. Before you head to the shore, our team at Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care wants to educate you on hazards you could face while near the water and steps to ensure your pet is protected.

Harmful algal blooms (HAB) are toxic to your pet

Algal blooms are an overgrowth of algae in fresh, brackish, or salt waters. A HAB is one that produces dangerous toxins. Never allow your pet to drink or swim in water with any of the following characteristics:

  • The water is an odd color, or vegetation is floating on the surface
  • A slimy film or foam is on the surface
  • An acrid smell is apparent

Two HABs are particularly dangerous.

  • Blue-green algae Blue-green algae are actually a bacteria called cyanobacteria that produce toxins that affect the liver, skin, and nervous system. Blue-green algae is typically found in non-flowing fresh water, and also grows in backyard pools and ponds not cleaned regularly. The algae are most commonly seen in hot seasons when rainfall is minimal. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that blue-green algae blooms are on the rise and a significant problem in all 50 states. Signs depend on the cyanotoxins that the bacteria your pet contacted was producing. Signs caused by neurotoxin-producing cyanobacteria include lethargy, disorientation, muscle twitching, excessive salivation and tearing, seizures, and paralysis. Signs caused by hepatotoxin-producing cyanobacteria include vomiting, bloody or black diarrhea, and pale or yellow mucous membranes.
  • Red tides A red tide is an algae bloom containing the organism Karenia brevis and causes a copper or reddish-brown water discoloration. These organisms thrive in salt water, and release toxins that can harm your pet’s nervous system if they swim in or drink contaminated water, or if they eat infected fish or shellfish. If your pet swims in affected waters, signs include eye, nose, and throat irritation, coughing, and difficulty breathing. If your pet ingests contaminated water or fish, signs include vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors, seizures, and paralysis.

If your pet comes in contact with blue-green algae or a red tide, rinse them well with clean water and rush them to the veterinary hospital. Treatment will involve inducing vomiting, administering products to prevent toxin absorption, and supportive therapy. Prognosis depends on the toxin contacted, and the severity of your pet’s signs. Preventing your pet from drinking or swimming in affected water, or from eating infected fish, is key to their protection.

Saltwater toxicity is harmful to your pet

A few mouthfuls of salt water will only cause mild diarrhea, but if your thirsty pet ingests a large amount, their sodium levels can become dangerously high, and may be fatal. When your pet drinks salt water, the salt in their intestine draws water from their blood, causing diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. As the sodium becomes more imbalanced, your pet’s cells attempt to correct the problem by releasing their water content, which results in kidney failure, brain cell death, and seizures. 

If your pet ingests a significant amount of salt water, take them to the veterinary hospital immediately. Treatment involves restoring your pet’s extreme electrolyte imbalance. This correction requires caution, because lowering your pet’s sodium levels too quickly can result in brain swelling. The imbalance can usually be corrected in two to three days. 

Bring a water bowl and plenty of clean, fresh water when you take your pet to the beach, and offer them water every 15 minutes. If you notice them drinking salt water, do not allow them back in the water, and watch them closely for saltwater toxicity signs.

If your pet does not know how to swim, they may drown when around water

Not all pets instinctively know how to swim. Follow these few guidelines to keep your pet safe when at the pool, beach, or lake.

  • Teach your pet to swim.
    • Keep your pet leashed while they learn.
    • Jump in with your pet to make the experience fun.
    • Choose a quiet, uninhabited place with easy access to shallow water.
    • Do not force them to participate.
    • Go slowly, and move gradually toward deeper water.
    • When your pet begins to paddle their front limbs, support their abdomen until they begin to swim with all four limbs.
    • Never leave your pet alone around deep water.
  • Train your pet to wait for you at the water’s edge.
  • Provide your pet with a life jacket, especially if you are on a boat.
  • Learn pet CPR.

Rinse your pet off well after swimming in salt water, fresh water, or chlorinated water. Clean their ears well, eliminating moisture to prevent painful ear infections.

You and your pet can thoroughly enjoy your time at the waterfront now that you know the dangers. If your pet is affected by HABs or salt toxicity, do not hesitate to contact the team at Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care.