How Red Tide Affects Your Pet

Learn what preventive measures to take for you and your pet as we roll into the Florida red tide season.

What is red tide?

A red tide, or harmful algal bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plantlike organism). In Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis, often abbreviated as K. brevis. To distinguish K. brevis blooms from red tides caused by other species of algae, researchers in Florida call the former the “Florida red tide.”

Where is red tide typically found?

The Florida red tide can be found in bays and estuaries but not in freshwater systems such as lakes and rivers. Because K. brevis cannot tolerate low-salinity waters for very long, blooms usually remain in salty coastal waters and do not penetrate upper reaches of estuaries. However, other harmful algae, including cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), typically bloom in freshwater lakes and rivers.

Water samples collected by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) Monday, Sept. 26, along Sarasota County and analyzed by Mote showed medium to high K. brevis cell counts in all 16 locations. Five locations had high concentrations of K. brevis, including Siesta Beach, Turtle Beach, Nokomis Beach, Venice North Jetty and Manasota Beach. For more updates on the status of red tide and the affected areas, tune into reports by Mote Marine or the Florida Department of Health.

What makes us cautionary of red tide?

Many red tides produce toxic chemicals that can affect marine organisms, humans, and your pets. The Florida red tide organism, K. brevis, produces brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die. Wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release these toxins into the air, leading to respiratory irritation. For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness.

Red tide exposures can result in neurological symptoms, including tremors, seizures and paralysis, which must be treated quickly for full recovery. A fun romp at the beach can turn bad if a dog chews on seashells, ingests water or eats a dead fish that contains red tide toxins.

What you can do for your pet

Just like people, pets may be affected by the Florida red tide.

  • If you live close to the beach, consider bringing outdoor pets inside during a bloom to prevent respiratory irritation.

  • If you are at the beach with your pets, do not allow them to play in the foam that may accumulate on the beach during or after a red tide. Research has shown the foam to be 10x more toxic than the water.

  • Do not allow your pet to play or get ahold of dead fish. If your pet eats dead fish, it may get sick. The toxins accumulate in the viscera (guts) and are very resistant to cooking and freezing.

  • If your pet swims in the red tide, wash it as soon as possible. Toxins can accumulate on the fur, and if a dog lick themselves after swimming they are prone to come into contact with toxins.

  • If you live near the water and your bird lives outside on a lanai or porch, consider bringing him inside to air conditioning. Depending on wind speed and direction, the toxins can travel at least 1 mile inland.

If your animal is acting differently, experiences a seizure, is clumsy, has diarrhea, is shaking, loses his balance, appears confused or seems to not be able to see, seek veterinary care immediately.

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