More Time Outside Means More Toxin Exposure Risk to Pets


In summer and fall, most Americans love to spend most of their time outdoors. And most pet owners prefer to bring their pets with them. But, unfortunately, whether it’s any recreational activity or working outside, pets are exposed to potentially harmful toxins.

“When pets are in unfamiliar surroundings, they love to investigate,” said Dr. Ahna Brutlag, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline. “While having your pets with you can enhance the enjoyment of your activities, it also requires extra vigilance in watching their behavior closely. As pet lovers know, it only takes them a minute to get into trouble,” he added further.

“One consistent summertime threat is blue-green algae, a common organism which can grow in fresh or saltwater,” said Brutlag. “The ‘algae’ is a bacteria called cyanobacteria, so named for its bluish pigment. Overgrowth of these bacteria, referred to as a bloom, typically occurs during late summer and fall when the water temperature rises, and there is little rainfall.”

“Nutrient-rich waters, such as in areas of agricultural or municipal runoff, encourage cyanobacterial growth. Cyanotoxins are powerful poisons that can be deadly to pets (often dogs), humans, and livestock. They mainly impact the nervous system or liver, with some causing death from respiratory paralysis within minutes,” Brutlag further added.

Toxic algae are almost present everywhere in the United States and Canada. The Pet Poison Helpline toxicology experts stated that most toxic algae cases reported were highly present in five states– California, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington. And 77 percent of potentially harmful algae-affected cases were referred to the veterinary clinic for care.

In California, a case of four-year-old Welsh Corgi was reported along with the owner; he went swimming in a creek labeled with warning signs of toxic algae. His owner saw the sign but didn’t pay much attention to it, and after the dog jumped into the water and come into close contact with algae and drank water, his owner realized the danger. He immediately called the Pet Poison Helpline experts.

Pet Poison Helpline experts recommended the veterinary staff induce vomiting, bathe the dog, and give him charcoal to treat potential ingested algae toxins. Due to the appropriate risk assessment of the owner, the dog was saved by treatment, and he went back home healthy.



Pets are exposed to toxins outside, but they can also have potential exposure to toxins at home or in the backyard. For example, the Pet Poison Helpline team stated the case of Jeff Gochoco. His nine-year-old Golden Retriever named buddy concluded his family’s home improvement stuff resembled a delicious buffet.

“I had built two planters and was getting them ready for next season by putting together a mixture of materials. I had included some mushroom compost and bone meal,” said Gochoco, Buddy’s owner. “Unfortunately, when Buddy came in from the backyard, he had some dirt on his snout and began to vomit later that night, and I’m guessing the bone meal is like cocaine for dogs.”

“The mushroom compost caused us the biggest worry because we didn’t know what types of mushrooms were in the material,” added Gochoco. “I called the emergency hospital, who referred me to the toxicology professionals at Pet Poison Helpline, and it took Buddy a few weeks to get back to normal, and now we watch him like a hawk.”

The dog ingested an obscure mass of mulch, straw, fertilizer, and plant food, causing vomiting and other gastrointestinal (GI) issues. For this situation, the leading cause of the illness was not the kinds of synthetic substances the dog ingested. Yet, numerous household fertilizers and insecticides sprays can be poisonous to pets. Therefore, before keeping them in the house, the owner should calculate risk exposure to pets by toxic material.

“If your dog has off-leash access to a yard or you take her with you outside the home, be aware of what sort of plants, products, and other potential hazards are in the surroundings,” said Brutlag. “Just as you would with a young child, you need to be aware of the potential dangers facing your furry family member.”

Pet Poison Helpline educates pet lovers by creating Toxin Tails of various risks occurring due to toxins pets face. All pets discussed in Toxin Tail have been treated successfully and have entirely recovered. However, pets suffering from potentially dangerous toxins can cause community transmission of toxins.

The centers for disease control and prevention CDC have advised animal owners that, “You cannot tell if a bloom is toxic just by looking at it, so when in doubt, it’s best to stay out!”