Tag Archives: toxins

Blue-Green Algae: Safe for Your Dog?

It’s summertime and after a long and challenging winter, the warm temperatures and summer activities feel wonderful!

But, if your dog joins you in your summer activities, it’s important to know what dangers are lurking about to effectively protect them.

In earlier posts, we’ve talked about many of the warm weather dangers waiting for your dog, including:

  • Heartworm and ticks;
  • Mulch and composting;
  • Deadly rattlesnakes driven out of their natural homes due to excessive rain;
  • The most toxic plant to your dog, the Water Hemlock; and
  • The tiny, but deadly foxtails.

Today’s subject is something you also find in the summer; especially in warm, stagnant ponds and lakes with low water flow which may also receive runoff from fertilized fields; namely, blue-green algae. Runoff with residual fertilizer creates an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus in the warm water which leads to an overgrowth of algae, typically called a “bloom” (a floating mat of scum).

Not All Algae is Created Equal

Not all blue-green algae is toxic. Spirulina, a freshwater, blue-green algae, is actually a beneficial whole food supplement (i.e., superfood) for humans and animals. However, in the case of toxic blue-green algae, even a casual encounter presents a life-threatening emergency for dogs and pets.

“Harmful (algae) blooms usually smell bad and resemble pea soup, green paint or floating mats of scum.” (Dr. Karen Becker)

Since it’s practically impossible to determine whether algae is toxic by just looking at it, always err on the side of safety and keep your dog/pet/children and yourself out of all bodies of water where algae is present.

Even dogs wading into the water with blooms can suffer seizures and convulsions; and even breathing in droplets of algae-contaminated air can cause illness.

Symptoms of Blue-Green Algae Toxicity

Blue-green algae produces deadly and toxic compounds which can cause:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea;
  • Lethargy, shock and coma;
  • Excessive panting and salivation;
  • Liver damage and failure;
  • Blood in the stool; or a black, tarry stool;
  • Respiratory tract inflammation and breathing difficulties;
  • Irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and  throat.
  • Nervous system damage; muscle tremors or rigidity; seizures; and
  • Death in dogs;

in as little as 30 to 60 minutes after exposure!

If you suspect your dog/pet has been exposed to blue-green algae, even briefly, immediate emergency vet care is necessary.

Since it’s much easier to avoid algae toxicity than to attempt treatment after exposure, keep your dog leashed and protected from the dangers that lurk in the summer sun and heat.

Final Notes on Blue-Green Algae

Blue-green algae is also harmful (but usually not lethal) to humans causing a rash/reddening of the skin, hives, blistering, runny nose and irritated eyes and throat. Ingestion of this toxic algae can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, throat irritation and muscle pain.

Blue-green algae also poses a danger to horses, cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, cats and birds.


To learn more about blue-green algae:

THE Most Toxic Plant to Your Dog (and kids)

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(Note: We’ve reposted this article because of the very wet winter and spring (and subsequent flooding), this deceptive-looking plant is flourishing in wet areas throughout North America and Europe. Here’s what you need to know to keep your pets – and children – safe.)


It looks soft, delicate and even beautiful, but this wildflower is one of the most toxic plants your dog (or child) can ingest (even in a small amount); with fast-acting and deadly consequences (within minutes).

Water Hemlock: Pretty, But Deadly

It’s called Water Hemlock and is a member of the carrot family. It typically grows in wet areas like marshes and swamps, damp pastures and along riverbanks, ponds, streams, irrigation ditches, reservoirs and other water edges in both North America and parts of Europe. It’s often mistaken for edible plants such as artichokes, celery, sweet potatoes, sweet anise, or wild parsnip.

Water Hemlock Is But One Name

Water Hemlock is also known by a variety of other names, including:

  • beaver poison
  • poison parsley
  • poison hemlock (with red spots or blotches in the stem)
  • muskrat weed
  • poison parsnip
  • spotted water hemlock
  • western water hemlock
  • cowbane/spotted cowbane
  • bulblet-bearing water hemlock

Symptoms of Poisoning

If ingested, the violent effects of toxic poisoning may become evident within a few minutes (from a toxin called cicutoxin, an aggressive, poisonous stimulant that attacks the nervous system) and include:

  • Drooling
  • Nervousness/agitation/weakness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Seizures and/or twitching
  • Rapid heart rate/difficulty breathing/asphyxiation/choking
  • Coma
  • Death from respiratory paralysis death (occurring between 15 minutes and 2 hours after the first initial signs of poisoning).

While the highest levels of its toxin is found in the roots, all parts of the water hemlock are poisonous and dog lovers should never let their dog get anywhere near it.

A side note, the water hemlock has a strong carrot-like odor which could attract curious dogs (or children). Even if it’s not ingested, touching this plant could give you a rash and smelling or breathing it could cause respiratory issues.

What You Should Do

If you suspect your dog has come into contact with water hemlock, seek immediate emergency veterinary care.  If you suspect a person has been affected, call Poison Control immediately at 800-222-1222.

The More You Know

To learn more about water hemlock and its potential dangers:

If You Own a Dog, Should You Mulch?

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It’s that time of year, yard work and landscaping are going on everywhere!

But if you own dogs, should you use mulch? Maybe or maybe not.

Here are two questions to help you decide if mulching will be safe around your dog:

  • What kind of mulch do you plan on using?
  • Do you have a curious – or even bored – dog that loves to chew?

While “mulch” may seem pretty much alike, not all mulch is the same, especially when it comes to the safety of your dog. While most mulch is non-toxic to your dog, there are some that can cause serious medical issues.

cocoa-1134226_1280For example, most dog owners know that chocolate is bad for canines. Similarly, cocoa bean mulch (also known as cocoa mulch; cocoa bean shell mulch and cocoa bean hull mulch) can also be toxic to your dog. While many people like cocoa mulch because of its color and pleasant odor, it may also be a potentially dangerous choice to your dog’s health. Mulch made from cocoa shells (a by-product of chocolate-making) contains the potentially toxic chemicals of theobromine and caffeine (both nervous system stimulants). If large enough amounts of these stimulants (which is directly related to the size of your dog) are ingested, toxic poisoning could mean death for your dog.

Even in lesser amounts, these two potentially toxic chemicals can also cause: irregular heart rhythms, increased heart rates and blood pressure, muscle tremors, hyperactivity, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, anxiety and restlessness, excessive panting, increased urination, dark red gums and even seizures. (And the smaller the dog, the faster and more deadly the effects of toxic poisoning become.)

Going back to our earlier question about having a curious or bored dog that likes to chew, this kind of behavior can cause a severe choking hazard with many kinds of mulch. Also, if ingested, mulch could create life-threatening esophageal and/or intestinal blockages requiring dangerous and expensive surgery.

It’s also very possible that your dog – unbeknownst to you – may be allergic to some types of mulch and end up with reactions like skin rashes, bumps filled with pus, wheezing, excessive itching and hives.

Considering colored mulch? Here are some potential concerns you’ll want to address first:

  • What kind of wood is the mulch is comprised of? Typically, colored mulchwood-806995_1280 is created with recycled wood (like wood pallets and “reclaimed” wood from demolition and construction sites, older fences and decks). Why is this important? Reclaimed, older woods could be contaminated with chemicals like creosote and chromated copper arsenate. (CCA was once used in the manufacture of older pressure-treated wood; although it’s since been banned.)
  • Added colors or dyes could also be toxic to your dog; particularly red and black mulch whichmulch-70901_1280 contains arsenic. While manufacturers and retailers may tell you these colors and dyes are “safe” to use, do you really want to take that chance with your beloved four-legged family member (or even your child)?

It’s also important to know what pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers or mold inhibitors have been added to the mulch you’re thinking about using in your yard. In addition, avoid any mulch that contains essential oils or resins, which could cause drooling, vomiting and loss of appetite and if consumed in large enough amounts, even central nervous system depression and/or damage to your family dog.

So before exposing your dog to mulch in your yard, do some research first before you decide to mulch or not to mulch.