Protect Yourself and Your Pets | Harmful Algal Blooms (2023)

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Protect Yourself and Your Pets | Harmful Algal Blooms (1)

On This Page

  • Recreational water
  • Drinking water
  • Report possible harmful algae and cyanobacteria
  • Fish and shellfish
  • What to do if you have symptoms
  • Prevent harmful algal and cyanobacterial blooms from forming

It is not possible to know if a large growth, or bloom, of algae or cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae) is harmful just by looking at it. Some blooms make toxins (poisons), which can still be in the water even when you can’t see a bloom. Learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones from harmful algae and cyanobacteria, what to do if you or a pet is exposed to them, and how to help prevent these blooms.

Recreational water

Check for advisories before visiting a body of water

Protect Yourself and Your Pets | Harmful Algal Blooms (2)

Permanent harmful cyanobacterial bloom health advisory sign in Oregon. Photo courtesy of Oregon Public Health.

Check for local and state swimming or fishing advisories before visiting lakes, rivers, and oceans. Follow advisories to reduce your chances of getting sick.

Health or environmental protection departments often post advisories on their websites, near the water, or both. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has a list of many state monitoring programs.

Visit your state government website to find out more information about water testing and beach closures in your area. Some states provide information on state laboratory testing as well as other environmental and health information.

(Video) How to protect your pets against toxic algae blooms

Stay out of water with a bloom

If you see signs of a bloom, stay out of the water and keep your pets out of the water. You cannot tell if a bloom is harmful by looking at it, so it is best to use caution and stay away. Do not fish, swim, boat, or play water sports in areas where this is possible harmful algae or cyanobacteria.

Do not go into or play in water that:

  • Smells bad
  • Looks discolored
  • Has foam, scum, algal mats, or paint-like streaks on the surface
  • Has dead fish or other animals washed up on its shore or beach

Protect your pets and livestock from getting sick by keeping them away from water with possible harmful algae or cyanobacteria. Do not let animals:

  • Get in the water
  • Drink the water
  • Lick or eat mats of cyanobacteria or algae
  • Eat or graze near the water
  • Eat dead fish or other animals on the shore
  • Go on the beach or shoreline

Learn more about protecting your animals from harmful cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).

Protect Yourself and Your Pets | Harmful Algal Blooms (3)

Harmful algae and cyanobacteria can make the water look or smell bad. When in doubt, it’s best to keep out!

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Rinse off if you or your pets go in water

If you or your pets do go in water that may have a bloom, rinse yourself and your pets immediately afterward with tap water from a sink, shower, hose, or outdoor spigot. Do not let pets lick their fur until they have been rinsed. Pets may have harmful algae, cyanobacteria, or related toxins on their fur if they swim or play in water with a bloom.

(Video) Protect your pooch from harmful algal blooms

Do not fill pools with water directly from lakes, rivers, or ponds. The water could contain algal or cyanobacterial toxins or unsafe levels of germs.

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Drinking water

Follow local guidance about toxins in tap water

If you are notified of cyanobacteria or their toxins in your public drinking water supply, follow guidance from your local or state government or water utility to reduce the chances of you or your animals getting sick.

Harmful cyanobacteria may grow in water bodies that supply tap water. Although many water treatment plants can remove these toxins, tap water can be contaminated in certain situations. Cyanobacteria can also produce substances that are not harmful, but can change the taste or smell of tap water.

If you have concerns about the appearance, smell, or taste of tap water that you are using, contact your water utility or health department. Consider using bottled water for drinking and cooking until the problem is resolved.

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(Video) Protecting yourself from harmful algal blooms (HAB's)

Report possible harmful algae and cyanobacteria

If you are worried about the way recreational water looks or smells, contact your local park authority, environmental protection authority, state environmental protection department, or health department. If you are worried about the way your tap water looks, smells, or tastes, contact your water utility or health department.

If you would like to help track harmful algae and cyanobacteria, check to see if your state has a citizen science program. For example, some states use tools like the BloomWatch app, the CyAN app, or the National Phytoplankton Monitoring Network. Examples of state-specific citizen science programs include:

Protect Yourself and Your Pets | Harmful Algal Blooms (5)

Report any illnesses that you think were caused by a bloom or its toxins to your local or state health department.

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Fish and shellfish

Be aware of advisories and health risks related to eating contaminated fish and shellfish

Avoid eating very large reef fish (such as grouper or amberjack), especially the head, gut, liver, or roe (eggs). Large reef fish may be contaminated with ciguatoxin, the algal toxin that causes ciguatera fish poisoning. See the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidancefor more information on reef fish associated with unsafe levels of toxins.

Check for and follow local shellfish and fish advisories before eating any fish or shellfish you collect yourself. Algal and cyanobacterial toxins in fish or shellfish have no taste or odor. Cooking or preserving food does not remove toxins. Thus, you cannot tell if the seafood is safe by just looking at, smelling, or tasting it.

  • Check to see if shellfish beds are closed. State shellfish control authorities (usually state health departments or other state agencies) are required to control for toxins where harmful algal blooms are likely to occur and toxins could build up in shellfish. Common ways state authorities control for algal toxins include routine monitoring for toxic algae or shellfish and testing shellfish for toxins before or after harvesting. If levels of toxins are unsafe, state authorities will close the area for shellfish harvesting until shellfish are safe to eat.
  • Check safety advisories from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Fish and Shellfish Advisories and Safe Eating Guidelineswebsite.

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(Video) Avoid harmful algal blooms and know the clinical signs

What to do if you have symptoms

If you think you may have symptoms caused by harmful algae, cyanobacteria, or their toxins, you can:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider for advice about how to relieve your symptoms. Let them know that you might have recently come in contact with a bloom or its toxins. While there are currently no available tests or special treatments for illnesses caused by algal or cyanobacterial toxins, information about the suspected cause of your illness might help your healthcare provider manage your symptoms.
  • Call your poison control center hotline at 1-800-222-1222. The specialists can provide information about illnesses caused by blooms.
  • Report any illnesses that you believe were caused by algae, cyanobacteria, or their toxins to your local or state health department. This information can help them understand and prevent harmful blooms and illnesses. Some state health departments have forms on their websites or hotlines for reporting suspected bloom-associated illnesses.

For more information about symptoms, visit Illness and Symptoms.

If you think your animal has been exposed to harmful algae, cyanobacteria, or their toxins, you should:

  • Rinse them with tap water right away to prevent them from licking algae or cyanobacteria off their fur.
  • Call your veterinarian right away if you think your pets or livestock swallowed water with a bloom, licked harmful algae or cyanobacteria off their fur, or ate fish or other creatures killed by a harmful algal bloom.
  • Call an animal poison center. You can call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-764-7661 if you have questions about your pets or livestock. (Note: there is a fee for these calls.)
  • Report any illnesses that you think were caused by algae, cyanobacteria, or their toxins to your local or state health department.

While no human deaths caused by cyanobacteria have been reported in the United States, many dog deaths have been reported after dogs swam in or drank fresh water containing cyanobacterial toxins. For dogs and other animals, some cyanobacterial toxins can cause illness or death in hours to days.

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Prevent harmful algal and cyanobacterial blooms from forming

Use only the recommended amount of fertilizers on your farm, yard, and garden. This will reduce the amount of nutrients running off into nearby water bodies. Nutrients in the water can help algae and cyanobacteria to grow more quickly than usual.

Maintain your septic system to keep wastewater from leaking and seeping into nearby bodies of water. Wastewater is full of nutrients that can feed algae and cyanobacteria.

(Video) Protecting yourself and your dogs from harmful algae found in some Idaho reservoirs

Learn more about factors that can help harmful algae and cyanobacteria grow.


How long does blue-green algae take to affect dogs? ›

Symptoms of blue green algae poisoning can take anything from 15 minutes to a few days to develop. Symptoms are often vague and include: Vomiting (sometimes with blood) Twitching.

Is algae bloom harmful to dogs? ›

Dogs, livestock, and other animals can suffer severe illness or death within minutes to days of swallowing toxins from cyanobacterial blooms. Providing supportive medical care soon after exposure can save an animal's life.

What is the blue-green algae killing dogs? ›

For dogs, a drink or a swim in blue-green algae-covered water can be lethal. Drinking from cyanobacteria-contaminated water can also cause seizures, liver disease and disorientation in dogs. The cyanobacteria may have more ominous long-term impacts.

How do you protect yourself your family and your pets from cyanobacteria blooms? ›

To protect yourself, your family and your pets from cyanobacteria blooms: y Don't swim, water ski, or boat in areas where the water is discolored or where you see foam, scum, or mats of algae on the water's surface. y Do not allow children or pets to play in or drink scummy water.

How can human activities cause algal blooms? ›

There are many examples of human activities that contribute to HABs: runoff from agriculture, dissolved chemicals introduced into water supplies via rainfall or irrigation, and effluent from sewage treatment plants all contribute to excess amounts of nutrients in our waterways. These nutrients are food for algae.

How do I protect my dog from blue-green algae? ›

Tips to Avoid Blue-Green Algae Poisoning:

Keep your dog leashed around bodies of water, especially if the water appears dirty, foamy, or has mats on the surface of the water. Don't let your dog drink out of ponds and lakes.

How fast do dogs get sick from algae? ›

Symptoms can begin anywhere from 15 minutes to several days after exposure. Clinical signs of poisoning are dependent on the toxin involved.

What if my dog drinks water with algae? ›

Dogs can develop poisoning when they drink from, or even simply swim in, contaminated water sources. If blue-green algae is ingested, it can cause severe neurologic or liver damage. Signs of blue-green algae toxicity include: Seizures.

Is algae bloom harmful to humans? ›

These blooms can produce toxins that make people and animals sick. Blooms occur in fresh water, such as lakes and rivers, and salt water, such as oceans or bays. Learn why blooms can cause harm and how to avoid getting sick.

Is algae toxic to humans? ›

Harmful algae and cyanobacteria, sometimes called blue-green algae, can produce toxins (poisons) that can make people and animals sick and affect the environment. Learn more about them to keep you, your family, and your pets safe.

Why is my dog pooping green slime? ›

A number of intestinal disorders can cause your pup's stool to become green: change in diet, inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies, idiopathic hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, colitis, viral infections, cholangitis, hepatitis etc. Each of these should be treated by your vet.

What can be done to fix and prevent algal blooms and red tides? ›

Stop using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Apply mulch and compost to build healthy living soil instead. Plant native and climate-appropriate plants. Direct rain gutters and downspouts into your landscaping to slow down and sponge up rain.

Will algae bloom go away on its own? ›

In many cases the algae bloom will die off within a few days, but you will still need to address the cause of the bloom. If you don't see results in 48 to 72 hours, another course of action is recommended.

Should I do a water change during an algae bloom? ›

You should generally do a partial water change every two weeks to protect the water quality in your tank. Drain or siphon off about 25% of the water in your tank. For severe algal blooms, you may need to replace more than 25% of the water. Do not change more than 50% of your tank's water at any given time.

How do you get rid of algae in a lake? ›

The most effective way to reduce algae, muck and other problems in a lake or farm pond is to increase aeration. And the best way to increase aeration is to install a bottom-diffused aeration system. Lake and farm pond aerators function in much the same way as the ones used in smaller water gardens.


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