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The Lower Colorado River Authority is warning pet owners to be vigilant while on the Highland Lakes after finding a toxin that can harm dogs in several samples of blue-green algae taken from Lake Travis.

“LCRA strongly urges pet owners not to allow their dogs to play in or eat algae in any of the Highland Lakes,” the authority stated March 12.

In late February, two dogs died and five more became ill after swimming near the Travis Landing neighborhood by Hudson Bend or Comanche Point, located on the opposite side of the lake. On March 3, LCRA staff collected algae samples from Lake Travis.

From those samples, cyanotoxins were detected in blue-green algae from 10 locations on Lake Travis as well as in the water itself at three spots.

The LCRA is collecting additional samples from Lake Travis and the other Highland Lakes the week of March 15. Out of precaution, officials recommend people keep their dogs out of algae in any of the Highland Lakes.

“We can’t stress this enough: Out of an abundance of caution, do not let your dogs touch or ingest algae from the lakes,” said John Hofmann, LCRA executive director of water. “We know even a little toxicity from blue-green algae can be harmful or even fatal to dogs.”

The collected samples came from floating algae in cove areas, the bottom of the lake in shallow areas, and decaying algae along the shoreline.

Algae occurs naturally in lakes and most of it is harmless. However, some, such as blue-green algae, a cyanobacteria, can produce toxins that are harmful to humans and animals. 

In humans, it typically causes eye irritations and skin rashes. If a person ingests a large quantity of water containing cyanotoxins, they could experience cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, and tingling in the toes, lips, and fingers. A person with these symptoms who has come into contact with blue-green algae should call their doctor.

Animals exposed to blue-green algae toxins can experience excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, difficulty breathing, seizures, and even death. 

Dogs are particularly susceptible to toxic forms of algae because they often play, swim, and drink in shallow water. 

“Do not let dogs drink or play in areas with visible algal blooms, and never let them eat or lick algal scum off the water or their fur,” the LCRA warned.

Blue-green algae naturally occurs in freshwater in Texas, including the Colorado River basin where the Highland Lakes are located. It can form anytime of the year, though it usually appears in the summer. The name “blue-green” is somewhat of a misnomer since this form of algae can also appear dark green, brown, or black.

According to the LCRA, the samples collected March 3 were mostly brown or dark green.

Scientific testing is required to determine if blue-green algae is producing toxins. Blue-green algae can be found with other non-toxic forms of algae, so it’s best to treat all algae as potentially toxic and avoid contact. 

The recent samples of blue-green algae containing cyanotoxins were found at Travis County’s Arkansas Bend Park, Bob Wentz Park, Comanche Point, Cypress Creek Park, Lakeway City Park, Mansfield Dam Park, Pace Bend Park, Sandy Creek Park, Tom Hughes Park, and Travis Landing.

LCRA staff also detected small amounts of cyanotoxins in the water itself at Bob Wentz Park, Sandy Creek Park, and Arkansas Bend Park.

For more information, visit the LCRA’s Algae in the Highland Lakes webpage.