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What are Lake Water Dangers?

There are several water dangers that you should be aware of before letting your dog go swimming this summer. Blue-green algae, parasites, bacteria, and saltwater toxicity all present dangers to your dog. Each one of these has the potential to make your pet sick: it is best if you check the water wherever you plan to let your dog swim or play. Just swallowing a little bit of blue-green algae can be fatal to your dog. Do not let your dog go near any body of water that looks greenish-blue, olive green, or red.

Parasites and bacteria are common occurrences in lakes and ponds. The three most common are cryptosporidium, giardia, and leptospirosis, all of which can cause intestinal upset, abdominal pain, and vomiting, to name a few. Saltwater is also dangerous if your dog decides to drink it while swimming, so be sure to bring along plenty of fresh water for your companion to drink while you are at the beach. Saltwater toxicity causes hypernatremia, which is an electrolyte abnormality that presents as vomiting, instability, and seizures.

Lake water dangers can range from drowning to illness, but the most common are from blue-green algae, parasites, bacteria, and saltwater toxicity. Drinking or inhaling a small amount of water from a contaminated water source can cause symptoms as mild as abdominal pain or signs serious enough to be fatal. Always check the condition of any lake or pond you let your dog play in beforehand. If the water looks cloudy, dirty, off-colored, or has a funny smell, do not take the chance. Your dog may be disappointed, but it is better than what could happen if you allow it.

Another sign of a potential problem with the water is dead fish. If you see dead fish floating on the surface, do not go near it and let the owner (if there is one) know about it. If the water source is at a city, county, or state park, you can call the office township wherever you are, once you get your dog a safe distance away from the water. The town or county should then test their water and put up a danger sign to keep animals and people from getting sick.

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Symptoms of Lake Water Dangers in Dogs

The symptoms of lake water dangers depend on the source.

Blue-green Algae

  • Algae in vomit or stool
  • Blood in urine
  • Convulsions
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Excess salivation
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Jaundice
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle tremors
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Respiratory paralysis
  • Rigidity
  • Seizures
  • Stumbling
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Parasites or Bacteria


  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps or pain
  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Weight loss


  • Dehydration (loss of fluids)
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Greasy stools
  • Stomach cramps
  • Upset stomach or nausea/vomiting


  • Abdominal pain
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • High fever
  • Jaundice
  • Muscle aches
  • Rash
  • Red eyes
  • Vomiting

Saltwater Toxicity

  • Abnormal skin color
  • Altered level of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Dry gums
  • General weakness
  • Lack of urination or inability to urinate
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle spasms
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Seizure
  • Weight loss


  • Blue-green algae
  • Parasites or bacteria (cryptosporidium, giardia, leptospirosis)
  • Saltwater toxicity

Causes of Lake Water Dangers in Dogs

Drinking or swallowing just a small amount of water that is contaminated by any of these dangers can cause illness in your dog.

  • Blue-green algae
  • Cryptosporidium
  • Giardia
  • Leptospirosis
  • Saltwater

Diagnosis of Lake Water Dangers in Dogs

The veterinarian will make sure your dog is stable before proceeding by giving intravenous (IV) fluids and oxygen therapy if needed. If the illness is from blue-green algae, anti-seizure medication will be given, and activated charcoal will be used to absorb the algae. Details from you and a physical examination should give the veterinarian a good idea of what the problem is, but some tests may be needed to rule out other causes. After a complete physical examination, laboratory tests, such as a  urinalysis, fecal examination to check for parasites, chemistry profile, and complete blood count (CBC) will be needed as well. The team may also do x-rays or an ultrasound to be sure there is no residual damage.

Treatment of Lake Water Dangers in Dogs

Treatment depends on the contaminant that caused the illness in your dog. Blue-green algae contamination will require staying in the hospital for intravenous fluids, medications, oxygen therapy, and observation. Cryptosporidium usually does not require treatment except for fluids to reduce dehydration. Giardia requires an antiparasitic such as metronidazole, nitazoxanide, and tinidazole. Leptospirosis should be treated with antibiotics, like penicillin or doxycycline. Saltwater toxicity usually requires intravenous fluids, electrolyte monitoring, and supportive care.

Recovery of Lake Water Dangers in Dogs

The prognosis for recovery from these water hazards depends on the contaminant itself. Parasites, bacteria, and saltwater toxicity are treatable if your dog is in good health, and recovery should be simple and quick. Unfortunately, blue-green algae toxicity is a serious situation that requires hospitalization for round-the-clock observation and treatment. Chances of recovery depends on the amount of algae your dog consumed and how fast you were able to obtain treatment.

Lake Water Dangers Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Boston Terrier
10 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

My dog went to a dog beach on Lake Michigan 4 days ago. She vomited twice that evening. I didn’t think much of it because she was in the car and doesn’t like riding in a car. The next 2 nights she vomited again about 8 hours after eating. Last night I feed her rice and green beans instead of dog food. She had runny diarrhea during the night. She is still drinking water. She still wants to play with her frisbee. But she is hiding away to sleep during the day/night.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2117 Recommendations
There are various infections and other health issues that dogs can pick up from lakes and other waterways; Lake Michigan has been on the news recently regarding Leptospirosis affecting dogs drinking the water. Other health concerns could be aspiration of lake water, parasites among other problems; I would recommend visiting your Veterinarian if the problem persists to be on the safe side and have a faecal test done. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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