Three Dogs Die from Blue-Green Algae in Austin Lake: See Tests & Symptoms

Getty The Austin skyline

Officials have determined that a popular lake in Austin has blue-green algae blooms that are toxic to dogs, causing the city to close a popular off-leash dog park to the public. Three dogs tragically died in Lady  Bird Lake in Austin, and now the popular park Red Bud Isle is closed. Lady Bird Lake has always banned human swimming except for special swim race events. Read on to learn more about what happened and the dangers of blue-green algae. Section four below includes details on how to perform your own free tests for the algae.


1. Red Bud Isle Is Closed to the Public After 40 Percent of Its Surface Was Found Covered by Blue-Green Algae

AustinParks.orgRed Bud Isle website

Officials have said that blue-green algae covered 40 percent of the water surface of Red Bud Isle, a popular waterfront dog park, KXAN reported. The algae is being tested, with preliminary results on Friday and full results on Monday. It’s not absolutely confirmed that the dogs’ deaths were caused by the algae, but the city has no reason to dispute the claims, KXAN noted.

It’s enough to cause the city to close Red Bud Isle to the public indefinitely, KUT reported. Red Bud Isle is a popular lakefront off-leash dog park that’s 13 acres in size and part of Lady Bird Lake. Photos of the lake on the city’s website show dogs playing in the water. The park is also used for kayaking and canoeing, but people are not allowed to swim in any part of Lady Bird Lake.

Rey Arellano, Assistant City Manager, said that climate change, zebra mussels, and other ecosystem changes might account for the algae. “We’re going to continue to monitor and see how our lakes changes due to those conditions,” he told KXAN.

It’s already illegal to swim in Lady Bird Lake, but people should not let their dogs swim in or go near the waters, and they should be careful not to swallow any water during recreational activities, Statesman reported.

Officials said the algae seems to be concentrated around Red Bud Isle, but may be found in other parts of Lady Bird Lake.


2. The Algae Is Floating in Clumps from the Bottom of Lady Bird Lake, But Austin Drinking Water Is Fine & from a Different Source

You can see a map of where Red Bud Isle is located above.

The City of Austin asked residents to prevent pets from swimming or drinking at Lady Bird Lake until further notice, and to limit their own direct contact with the water or algae.

In Austin, the algae appears to be growing at the bottom of the lake and floating in clumps to the surface. The City said it’s prevalent near Red Bud Isle, and is also more abundant near shorelines and in areas with low water flow. “The situation is evolving,” the city noted. The city also said: “Austin Water regularly looks at algae levels on Lake Austin and Lake Travis and has not seen levels of concern for drinking water. Currently, Austin Water does not use Lady Bird Lake as a source for drinking water.”

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, blue-green algae isn’t actually algae at all, but cyanobacteria found in lakes that can thrive in warmer conditions. The algae can look like pea soup in the water or green paint that spilled and is floating on the surface. But it’s not always dense and super easy to spot. The algae is harmful when it’s blooming, typically in sunny, warm weather where water is warmer than 75 degrees.


3. Blue-Green Algae Is Toxic to Dogs & Cats, &  It Can Make Humans Sick Too

Humans can become sick from swimming in the water, having skin contact with it, swallowing water, or breathing in airborne droplets, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency noted. Symptoms begin hours to two days later, and can include eye irritation, cough, sore throat, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, rashes, or eye irritation. People who are exposed may also experience mouth ulcers, lip blistering, muscle aches, and abdominal pain, Health Link BC reported. Anyone who thinks they were exposed should see a doctor right away.

Dogs are especially in danger because of how much water they swallow while swimming. Cats can be poisoned by the algae too.

Blue-green algae can be toxic to dogs and cats. If they drink the water, a toxin in the algae can cause fatal liver damage. Symptoms of poisoning include drooling, foaming at the mouth, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle twitches, blood in the stool, weakness, jaundice, respiratory paralysis, and death. Even small exposures can be fatal to dogs and cats, Pet Poison Helpline noted. Immediate and aggressive treatment is needed.


4. Free Tests Can Help Indicate the Possibility of Blue-Green Algae

Simple, free tests can identify blue-green algae, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency noted. These tests are free, and although no test is perfect, they can help identify warning signs.

For one test, take a clear jaw with a screwtop lid, collect a sample while wearing gloves just before the surface (don’t just collect the top scum layer.) Fill the jar 3/4 full and screw on the lid. Keep it in the refrigerator overnight. Algae that settles near the bottom is likely not blue-green algae. A green ring at the top is strong evidence of possible blue-green algae.

Minnesota Pollution Control AgencyA page from Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s guide

There’s also a stick test where you just push a stick in the water and see if it comes out looking like it’s dipped in green paint (a sign of blue-green algae) or green strands (likely not blue-green algae.) You can read more about the tests and see photo examples in Minnesota’s guidelines here. Be sure and read the guideline before trying your own test, as it includes safety precautions that should be followed. If in doubt, just avoid the water and definitely don’t take your pets near any water that has a possibility of containing blue-green algae.


5. Three Dogs Have Died after Swimming in Lady Bird Lake

Three dogs have already died after swimming in Lady Bird Lake, CBS Austin reported. The loss of these sweet dogs is heartbreaking. Mia Mineghino told CBS Austin that her dog Koda loved to swim at Red Bud Isle in Lady Bird Lake, and she took her dog swimming before any warning signs had been put up. She said he was already showing signs of being ill by the time they got home from their swim. He couldn’t stand on his legs and she immediately took him to the vet. He died within minutes. Koda was only two years old, she told CBS Austin.

Brittany Stanton shared a heartbreaking post on Facebook about her dog, Ollie, who died after swimming in Lady Bird Lake. You can read her full story above. Here’s part of what she wrote. If stories about dogs suffering are too tough for you to read, you might not want to read the story below. Heavy is sharing this story because Stanton wrote the account to warn others.

This past Saturday I woke up excited to take my 2 year old golden retriever, Oliver/Ollie, down to Lady Bird Lake. Neither of us have kayaked there, and it is… was… a definite must do if you live in Austin. Ollie loves, I mean LOVES, the water. He swam for the first-time last summer and became instantly addicted. I knew he would love to be on the water that morning, as much as I would… 

As anticipated, Ollie practically dragged me down to the water and began his little squeaks and whines, as there was quite a line and he was ready to be in the water stat… e stood on the front of the kayak and would bend down to put one paw in the water to drag as I got us a bit farther from the dock. And then he jumped. And swam. And swam. He would jump off, swim back, have me help him back in the boat and then do it all over again. And again. We had such a wonderful time. My last hour with him that would be filled with happy memories.

We were out for an hour exactly. I decided to stop at Zilker Park just down the road before heading home… And then he started showing symptoms. It was about 30 minutes after being there his back two legs gave in when he was walking. The confusion in both of our eyes met at the same time. He looked at me like “but I don’t get it momma, I’m okay I’ll just get up” and he stood up and tried walking again and all four legs collapsed…

I drove my car up onto the green and a few people picked up Ollie’s weak body to put him in the back of my car. He had already lost his ability to stand and began to have a weak pulse and shallow breaths. The lady jumped in the back seat with her dog, knowing I was in a state of shock, and to help continue to keep Ollie as cool as possible. I frantically drove to the vet I found, turning to look at him as much as I could. And the second turn to look… I saw him start seizing… She started CPR. We were 4 minutes out from the vet. I ran in to get the doctor and he came out and pulled Ollie out of the back of my car. Lifeless. They intubated and continued CPR for over 10 minutes but he was already gone.

The next day, a news report came out about blue algae in the water that can release a neurotoxin. It only took one hour from the time we left the water for Oliver to breathe his last breath. It is still uncertain if water toxicity or the blue algae is the cause, but regardless, I would have NEVER ever ever brought him if I knew that was a risk…”

Her story is heartbreaking. Hopefully, no more dogs will die from exposure to the blue-green algae in Austin lake waters.