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Last week, Facebook was going crazy with articles about dogs dying after spending the day swimming in local ponds and lakes. Each story raised alarms because I had never heard of this problem and we have three ponds and a creek on our property and two dogs who love to swim and three more who walk tummy deep in the water, drinking it up like it's a summer refreshment.
Are our dogs in danger?
What is Blue-Green Algae?
According to news reports, blue-green algae is a type of toxic bacteria that floats on or near the surface of the water and has the appearance of foam or spilled paint (as described by one website) across the surface of the water. Blue-green algae can also have a strong, musty smell (but not always). What sucks is that even after it's gone away, the toxins are still present in the water.
The toxic bacteria is often found in still waters (like ponds) and has been connected to fertilizer run-off.
How Does Blue-Green Algae Impact Our Dogs?
Depending on exposure, a dog may get sick after drinking water contaminated with this toxin. Ingestion can result in diarrhea, vomiting, liver damage, and death (in some cases). Although the stories of dogs dying from exposure, I also read that these dogs were at a lake or pond for extended periods of time and an article quotes a professor who stated that dogs swimming in the water for 5-10 minutes or taking a few gulps of the water most likely won't become sick.
Symptoms of Blue-Green Algae Sickness in Dogs
According to the PetPoisonHotline.com, symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning in dogs may include:
- Blood in stool or black, tarry stool
- Pale mucous membranes
If your dog experiences any of these symptoms after swimming (or drinking from) a local pond, please contact your veterinarian immediately.
Is Blue-Green Algae in Our Ponds?
As I stated, we have three ponds and a creek on our property and this is the only water our dogs play in/swim in and seeing all of the news reports made me wonder if our ponds were safe for our dogs.
We also have fish in our ponds and birds drink from our ponds. One warning sign that a pond is toxic is the appearance of dead fish and/or birds. We have a growing population of bass and tadpoles in two ponds and the third pond has several huge koi and goldfish. All of the pond life is doing great. The creek on our property feeds into our two bigger ponds, allowing the fish to swim back and forth.
So, I believe that we're safe from blue-green algae. And to be certain, I contacted a local specialist who confirmed that our ponds are fine.
How to Prevent Blue-Green Algae in Our Ponds
Speaking with a professional was gratifying and I learned that there are several things that we're doing that serve to protect our ponds (and dogs) from toxic blue-green algae.
We Surrounded the Ponds with Plantlife
By surrounding the ponds with plant life that is native to our area, there is a natural filtration system. We don't need to do anything to with the plants except trim them back when they become overwhelming for the pond. We added these plants to provide protection from the heron, provide food for the pond-life, and keep the water oxygenated – I didn't realize it was protecting our dogs and fish from toxic algae.
We Don't Over Feed Our Fish
We only feed the koi and goldfish and they don't get much because they also have native food growing in their ponds that they can eat. The other ponds have their own environment that supports the fish and frogs that live in them. They eat bugs (which is why we don't have many mosquitoes) and other things so we don't need to feed them.
We Don't Use Fertilizer Near Our Ponds
We do use fertilizer in our gardens and when planting new trees, but we don't use it on our lawn and we definitely don't use it near our ponds. Our concern has always been for the pond-life, now we have more reason to void fertilizing the lawn that surrounds our ponds.
The Dogs Don't Poop in the Ponds
With the exception of Zoey pooping on the edge of the koi pond when she was a puppy (I scooped it up right away) the dogs do not poop or urinate in or near the ponds.
Clearing Blue-Green Algae from Ponds
If we happen to wake up and notice a toxic bloom forming in one of our ponds, it's not the end of the world. I've read that the best way to get rid of blue-green algae is to clear out the water. This would be a challenge because our ponds are natural and the water comes from underground. There are products that help remove algae from a pond that can be used that are safe for pond-life. Because I don't have any experience using these products, I am not going to recommend any in this blog post. Instead, I recommend contacting your local pond maintenance shop to discuss your options if you notice blue-green algae growing on the surface of your pond.