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Algae, Pets and the Russian River


Algae, Pets and the Russian River

By Dr. Jona Sun Jordan, Coddingtown Veterinary Clinic

Many of us are accustomed to playing, kayaking, picnicking, and swimming with our pets and children in the Russian River, but this year the river we all love is changing.  Many species of algae are found in both fresh and salt water bodies and changing the flow of the water whether by diversion or by drought (or both) changes the flora that live there.

Carefully collected or grown algae are sometimes used to help heal a number of health issues, but algae can also be contaminated with bacteria or heavy metals, and drought or other waterway stresses can cause an overgrowth or “bloom” in wild algae.  During a bloom overgrown and dying algae that are normally spread throughout the water accumulate as a scum at the edges where pets and other animals are exposed when they play or drink.  

Signs of Poisoning

Not all algae make toxins but when they do symptoms of algae poisoning come from the toxin’s effect on the liver and nervous system, and can include:  low energy, staggering, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle twitching, seizures, difficulty breathing, and death.  (Not all pets will have all symptoms.)  Pets that survive algae poisoning can have health issues for life.


Preventing blue green algae toxicity in dogs is easier than successfully treating it. The best advice is to not allow your dog to drink from stagnant water, ponds or lakes, or even rivers -- especially if they have a bluish-green scum on the surface or around the edges.

If you have contaminated water on your property, you should immediately fence the area off so your dog and other animals in the vicinity cannot drink there. Treat the algae bloom by sprinkling copper sulfate over the water surface at a concentration of one part per million (PPM). Your local landscape/pond supply store should be able to help you figure out the dosage needed to treat your water, as well as how to apply it.

Although there are many strains and not all of them produce toxins, in the long run, it’s better err on the side of caution and keep your dog (and the whole family) away from any water you have reason to believe might be contaminated, and wash everyone and everything thoroughly after swimming.  And when in doubt, call your vet!




Dr. Jona Sun Jordan
Coddingtown Veterinary Clinic
2210 County Center Drive
Santa Rosa, CA 95403