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Beware the Hazards of Water

Posted by Jennifer Wicklund, DVM on

It is already promising to be a hot summer. What better way to beat the heat than to pack up family and Fido and head to the lake, river, or ocean?! While enjoying family time and treating your pet to a fun outing, don’t forget there may be serious dangers your dog can pick up from the cool, refreshing water.

Blue­Green Algae Toxicity
Watch out for harmful algae blooms in local lakes and rivers. Once the weather heats up, common algal organisms can overgrow into a “bloom.” Sometimes blooms are not harmful, but often the organisms found in these blooms can cause acute, often fatal, disease in dogs.

Many lakes and rivers are monitored for algae blooms. Pay attention to any published warnings and be on the lookout for suspicious water, including water that has a foamy or scummy appearance, is thick like paint, or is pea­green, blue­green or brownish red.

Symptoms you may notice if your pet swims in or ingests blue­green algae toxins include:

  • Tremors, rigidity, and/or paralysis
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Skin irritation
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Drooling

If your dog experiences these symptoms after being in lakes or rivers possibly affected by blue­green algae, take immediate measures to get your pet to a veterinarian. In the meantime, make sure your dog does not lick its fur and wash your dog with clean water as soon as possible. Act quickly as death can occur within minutes to hours. Your veterinarian will provide supportive treatment and if your dog survives the initial damage caused by the toxins, the chances of a full recovery are good.

Salmon Poisoning Disease
Everyone knows that dogs like to get into everything, and raw fish on the beach or in a river is especially tantalizing! But in the Pacific Northwest, salmon, trout and steelhead are often infected with a fluke (a type of internal parasite) that causes Salmon Poisoning Disease. When dogs eat the raw fish, an organism within the fluke spreads through the bloodstream, infecting the liver, lungs, brain and lymph tissue.

Symptoms of Salmon Poisoning include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea
  • Rapid, severe weight loss
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Seizures

If left untreated, 50­-90% of infected dogs will die within 7­-10 days. If treated in a timely fashion with fluid therapy, antibiotics, anti­vomiting medications and, in some cases, blood transfusions, most dogs will recover.

Leptospirosis is an emerging disease in worldwide, and it is not one to be taken lightly. Caused by a bacteria spread through the urine of infected animals, Leptospirosis enters the body through mucous membranes, cuts or scrapes in the skin, or ingestion of infected water. It is a particularly important public health concern because it is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be spread from animals to humans, and it causes significant disease in both species.

Dogs can contract Leptospirosis after coming into contact with the bacteria via drinking, swimming in or walking through contaminated water. Many species of wildlife can carry Leptospirosis, including skunks, raccoons, opossums, squirrels and deer. A vaccine is available and should be considered for dogs with frequent exposure to potential carriers.

A complicating factor of the disease is that common clinical signs vary, and sometimes, dogs do not have any symptoms. Leptospirosis should be considered if your dog has access to water frequented by wildlife and shows any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Refusal to eat
  • Stiffness and/or severe muscle pain

Treatment consists of fluid therapy and antibiotics and, if instituted early in the course of the disease, has a better outcome.

If you suspect that your dog may have Leptospirosis and you have had contact with your dog’s urine or blood during the time of its infection, see your physician immediately.

This summer, have fun outside and explore the beautiful lakes, rivers and oceans with your dog, but be aware of potential hazards! Keep a close eye on your pet and know where to seek emergency veterinary treatment if necessary.