As summer nears its end, so too do summer vacations, with pet owners returning to our desert climate where bodies of water are scarce. With the upcoming return of cooler days here in the valley, more time spent outside is a must, which may include visits with your dog to northern Arizona and its lakes, streams, and ponds. These bodies of water are best approached with some caution and awareness of potential risk factors.
Some parts of the country are experiencing blooms of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in their fresh water sources. Blue-green algae have neurotoxic properties and can result in death if ingested, either by drinking water with these algae present, or by licking items contaminated with the algal bacteria, including the fur of another animal. According to the ASPCA and the Pet Poison Helpline, there are a number of symptoms that may result after a dog ingests blue-green algae, including vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, excessive drooling, liver and respiratory failure, and death. While we are not currently aware of any cases of harmful algae blooms in bodies of water in Arizona, they are a possibility for Lake Havasu and Lake Powell, per research done in the Arizona State Law Journal and by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
Harmful algae blooms are not always visible at the water’s surface, which can make spotting them challenging, as the algae and bacteria may be clinging to plants below the surface. Most frequently, the affected water will be covered in a bluish-green scum of algae, or the water will appear as if mixed with green paint, resembling pea soup. If you and your dog encounter a body of water with such an appearance, do not come into direct contact with it. If you notice water that you suspect may contain harmful algae, you may report it through the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s mobile app, which will help other pet owners and their dogs enjoy our state’s fresh water sources more safely.