Reports of toxic harmful algal blooms (HABs) across the country have pet owners and water lovers on alert for contaminated water.

David Schmale, a professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech, told CNN that though algae naturally occur in water, some cyanobacteria (commonly called blue-green algae) may produce toxins that pose a threat to the health of humans and domestic animals. HABs have been found in large freshwater lakes, smaller inland lakes, rivers, reservoir and marine and coastal areas in all 50 states, according to Schmale.

Erin Ling, senior extension associate and program coordinator for the Virginia Household Water Quality Program at Virginia Tech, offers the following advice for avoiding the dangerous risks of HABs:

  • Avoid waters that are discolored or have foam, scums or mats that are green or blueish-green because they likely contain toxins. Harmful algae can also be brown or red, and can resemble paint floating on the water. Toxic algae can stink, smelling nauseating to people, but can be attractive to animals like dogs.
  • Do not allow children or pets to drink from natural bodies of water.
  • Keep children and pets out of the areas experiencing a harmful algae bloom and quickly wash them off with plenty of fresh, clean water after coming into contact with algae scum or HAB water.
  • Seek immediate medical/veterinarian care if you, your kids or your animals experience symptoms after swimming in or near a HAB.
  • Human contact with HABs can cause rashes, stomach upset, diarrhea and vomiting.  Dogs can show symptoms including staggering, drooling, breathing difficulty, convulsions or seizures.
  • Harmful algal blooms can also be harmful to livestock.
  • To ensure fish fillets are safe to eat, properly clean fish by removing skin and discarding all internal organs, and cooking fish to the proper temperature.

Individuals experiencing health-related effects following exposure to a HAB should contact the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Hotline at 1-888-238-6154. To learn more about harmful algae blooms or to report an algae bloom, visit

About Schmale

David Schmale is a professor at the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. His laboratory uses unmanned systems to study the transport and fate of microorganisms in the atmosphere and water. To learn more about his work, and his recent campaign to study HABs in Ohio, follow him on Instagram @schmalelab, and on Twitter @SchmaleLab;


To secure an interview with Schmale or Ling, please contact Shannon Andrea in the media relations office at [email protected] or 703-399-9494.