A dog swimming. LEHTIKUVA


With exceptionally warm waters this summer, the presence of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, in nutrient-rich bodies of water is on the rise. This algae can be fatal if ingested by pets, especially dogs and cats. Fortunately, there are simple ways to detect its presence.

As mid-summer approaches and water temperatures rise, blue-green algae begin to thrive in enriched waters.

This year, with lake temperatures warmer than average, sightings of this toxic algae have already been reported.

There are many species of blue-green algae, and distinguishing between toxic and non-toxic types is difficult. Therefore, it is safest to assume all blue-green algae is harmful. Toxic strains produce neurotoxins and hepatotoxins, which can severely affect the nervous system and liver.

In nutrient-rich, calm waters, cyanobacteria can rapidly grow, turning the water green and forming algal mats on the surface. The occurrence of algae blooms varies annually with weather conditions, with warm weather promoting growth.

Blue-green algae are toxic to both humans and animals. While humans generally experience mild symptoms, dogs, who often drink water while swimming, can suffer severe reactions.

Symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning in pets typically appear within an hour. These symptoms include skin irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, weakness, balance issues, tremors, seizures, and in severe cases, internal bleeding, loss of consciousness, and death due to liver failure.

If a pet drinks water contaminated with blue-green algae, immediate veterinary attention is crucial. Vets may provide first aid instructions, such as inducing vomiting before arrival. Rinsing the pet with clean water can also help as an initial measure.

The best way to prevent blue-green algae poisoning is to check the water quality before allowing pets to swim. Local health authorities monitor water quality and provide updates on the presence of blue-green algae at public beaches and on their websites. Additionally, Finland's Environmental Institute's website, www.vesi.fi, offers information on the status of blue-green algae in various swimming locations.

For those visiting non-public beaches, it's essential to inspect the water quality before letting pets swim or drink. Avoid water that has an unusual smell or color. Always provide pets with clean drinking water to discourage them from drinking from lakes or the sea.

Visible green or yellow particles in the water can indicate small amounts of blue-green algae, which might be mistaken for pollen, especially pine pollen. Larger quantities of algae can form dense mats or turn the water green.

Before swimming, it's advisable to test the water. The easiest method is to fill a glass with water and let it sit for an hour. If green particles rise to the surface, the water contains blue-green algae. Alternatively, a stick test can be performed: lift the algae with a stick. If the algae break into particles, it is blue-green algae. If it clings to the stick, it is likely harmless filamentous algae.

By taking these precautions, pet owners can ensure the safety of their furry friends during the warm summer months.