Dogs and owners
Summertime is great for people and dogs. The long days and dry weather means the days are longer and it is easier to go places together. A trip to the beach or to a river is a lot of fun and knowing how to keep your best friend safe means you are able to relax and enjoy the adventure even more.
Toxic algae (known scientifically as cyanobacteria) are an ancient group of photosynthetic bacteria. Toxic algae are widespread in rivers (and lakes) in New Zealand, including waterways with very good water quality.
Most of the year toxic algae is present at normal background levels and not much of a danger. But during summer, low rainfall and warm temperatures create a nice stable environment where it can thrive.
Toxic algae forms leathery looking mats on rocks in the riverbed, and ranges from blackish/brown to dark green in colour (it's quite different from normal harmless green algae, which looks bright green and often forms long strings).
These mats can come loose and wash up on the edge of the rivers, or form ‘floating rafts’ in shallow areas. As they dry out they turn light brown or white and produce a strong musty smell. This is when it poses the biggest risk to our dogs. They love the smell and many dogs will try to eat it if they get the chance.
Toxic algae produces a powerful neurotoxin that is very dangerous to dogs if they eat it. In extreme cases dogs can die within 30 minutes after the first signs of poisoning.
The best thing you can do to keep yourself, your kids and your pets’ safe is to know what toxic algae looks like and avoid it.
If you are not sure it’s there, keep your dog on a lead and make sure they don’t eat anything suspicious.
If you suspect that your dog has eaten toxic algae, you should treat it like an emergency and contact your vet immediately. Symptoms of toxic algae poisoning in dogs include lethargy, muscle tremors, fast breathing, twitching, paralysis and convulsions.
In some places over summer when our beaches and public spaces are at their busiest, additional restrictions may apply to dogs. It pays to check before you leave home so you and your best friend aren’t disappointed when you head off to enjoy the water.