Toxic algae outbreak across the UK is killing dogs – and it’s harmful to humans too

Toxic algae outbreak across the UK is killing dogs – and it’s harmful to humans too
Ingesting the algae can kill dogs, fish and other animals, and make humans seriously ill (Photo: Shutterstock)

Potentially toxic blue-green algae have been found in rivers, lochs and lakes across Scotland and the Lake District, and more is expected, thanks to the recent hot weather.

Scientists say the algae are harmful to both humans and animals if ingested, and two dogs have reportedly already died this summer in Scotland as a result of drinking toxic water at River Conon, near Maryburgh in the Highlands and Loch Awe in Argyll and Bute.

Blue-green algae have also been spotted at Ullswater, Coniston Water and Windermere in the Lake District, where warning signs have been put up.

Where has the algae come from?

According to experts, this summer’s unusually long-lasting warm and dry weather means that bodies of freshwater have not been flushed out by rain, as they normally would.

What does it look like?

Blue-green algae are microscopic in size, but clump together in small but visible colonies that can rise to the surface of the water.

Blue-green algae are microscopic in size, but clump together in small but visible colonies (Photo: Shutterstock)
Blue-green algae are microscopic in size, but clump together in small but visible colonies (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why do dogs drink algae-contaminated water?

A thirsty dog will drink from a lake or river and, despite its harmful effects, the animals are attracted to the smell of the blue-green algae.

What damage can algae do?

When ingested, the algae can cause damage to the liver or the nervous system in both humans and animals.

Anyone who swims in or accidentally drinks water containing algae can develop rashes, eye irritation, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and muscle and joint pain. However, there have been no recorded cases of long-term effects or death as a result of contact with algae in the UK.

There have even been reports of fish found in distress or dying in some affected bodies of water.

What should I do if I spot some?

Depending on your location, you can report any sightings of blue-green algae to either the Environment Agency or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

In Scotland, an app called Bloomin’ Algae has been developed, which allows users to submit images of the algae and its location, speeding up the reporting process.

The information collected will keep the public informed, as well as helping scientists to understand the growing pattern of the algae.