Kingstonist’s Wizard of Paws: Toxic Water

Written by Dr. Ryan Llera

Photo by Adam Correia.

Summer is almost over. That doesn’t mean you have to break out the winter boots for your dogs just yet though. There’s still time for them to get some outdoor playtime, including some swimming in their busy schedules. But lately, that could be a dangerous proposition.

Blue-green algae has been noted in the water here in the Kingston region at various times over the years. Though I haven’t personally seen any cases here, there have been confirmed reports of dogs dying in New Brunswick from exposure to the toxic components found in the water. The weather has been particularly cooperative with the warm temperatures and lower water levels, but our region also has an abundance of farmland that may run off into lakes and rivers. Additionally, we’re no stranger to wildlife, which can also be a contributing factor.

The main problem with this algae is actually the bacteria in the water which, depending on the strain, can cause liver or neurological disease. Effects can be seen in minutes to hours with the neurotoxic form and can include muscle tremors, laboured breathing, the gums turning bluish, seizures, and death.  The liver form of the algae poisoning takes a bit longer and may be harder to notice. Liver enzyme changes will happen very quickly, but visibly you may see watery or bloody diarrhea and as well as the neurological effects noted above. Unfortunately, it is also fatal.

I don’t mean to raise alarms, but simply want to inform you of what can happen to your dog and what to look for to help prevent an exposure. Treatment unfortunately is not specific and rarely successful.  Prevention is the best method. Just swimming in the water won’t affect your dog; it’s the drinking of infected water that will cause the problems. If the water has a heavy layer of blue or green algae on the surface, it’s better to postpone swimming or find a different area to enjoy the water in. It’s still okay to take your dogs for a swim, just be aware of your surroundings!


Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with two cats, two dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. Dr. Llera also contributes writing to various other animal and veterinary related blogs. You can find more of his writing at, or see what else he is up to on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

If there’s something you’ve often wondered or have questions about, let us know by email at [email protected].

*Please note that specific medical questions about your pet cannot be addressed and you should speak with your personal veterinarian. Disclaimer: All columns are personally written and my opinion and may not necessarily reflect those of current or former employers.

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