‘Keep dogs on a lead around rivers and ponds’- Scottish vets issue seasonal warning about deadly blue-green algae risks

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has issued its annual warning to pet owners to take extra precautions when walking dogs around freshwater bodies, as warm weather conditions spark concerns about an increased risk of toxic blue green algae growth over the coming months.

The warning follows on the heels of confirmed algal bloom sightings in lakes, ponds or rivers in around 50 locations across the UK, including Millarochy BayPullar’s Loch and several other locations in Scotland, as identified by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’s (UKCEH) Bloomin’ Algae app. In late April, a cocker spaniel died of suspected blue green algae poisoning after a swim in Anton Lakes, Hampshire.

Blue green algae, or cyanobacteria, are a group of bacteria that can contain dangerous toxins which can be harmful and potentially fatal to pets, livestock and birds if ingested even in small quantities. The algae may appear as green or greenish-brown scum on the surface of water. Dogs can swallow it by drinking water from an affected lake, river or pond or while licking their fur after going for a swim. It’s possible for dogs to come into contact with the bacteria even if they don’t go into water for a paddle, as toxic blooms are often blown to the edges of water bodies.

According to trend data supplied by Professor Alan Radford and his team at SAVSNET, University of Liverpool, suspected or confirmed cases reported by veterinary practices peak in July and August, at the height of the summer season, and aren’t restricted to any one part of the UK.

BVA has issued the following advice for pet owners:

  • Look out for any warning signs put up by the responsible national environment agency or local authority near water bodies.
  • Keep pets on a lead and by your side around water bodies known or suspected to have a blue-green algal bloom – don’t let pets swim in it or drink from it.
  • If your dog has been swimming outside, wash its coat thoroughly with clean water afterwards.
  • Seek emergency veterinary treatment if you’re concerned your pet may have ingested toxic algae.
  • Report sightings of suspected blue-green algae with a photograph via the Bloomin’ Algae app. You can also set up notifications for confirmed sightings in your area.

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