British Columbia

Toxic algae suspected in Cowichan-area dog deaths

Earlier this month, Dr. Lyn Pascoe's dog Austin slipped out of their fenced, lakeside property in North Cowichan and returned with fluorescent green algae clinging to his wet legs. The next day the six-year-old Australian shepherd-border collie cross was dead.

At least 4 dogs died after swimming in or near algae-filled Quamichan Lake

Dr. Lyn Pascoe's dog, Austin, died a day after returning home with bright green algae from Quamicham Lake clinging to his legs. (Dr. Lyn Pascoe)

Earlier this month, Dr. Lyn Pascoe's dog, Austin, slipped out of their fenced, lakeside property in North Cowichan and returned with fluorescent green algae clinging to his wet legs.

The next day, the six-year-old border collie-Australian shepherd cross was dead.

Now Pascoe, a local family physician, is worried about risks to other pets and people who are exposed to the blue-green algae in Quamichan Lake.

"He's a bit of a Houdini," Pascoe said, remembering the day Austin escaped from their yard.

"That evening he started throwing up. He threw up about five times, and I thought, 'Oh goodness, he's got into something,'" Pascoe said.

The next afternoon, she says veterinary blood tests identified "massive liver toxicity", not long before Austin went into seizures and died.

Other dogs dead in similar circumstances

Within days of her dog's death, Pascoe learned of two other dogs, also living in lakefront homes, that died in the last month.

"I contacted both those property owners and both dogs had died under similar circumstances."

One was a small, three-year-old dog that experienced seizures and vomiting after going into the water, and died within 12 hours, she said. 

The other was an older dog. The owner says he had been playing in the lake. "The dog threw up at night and she found him dead in the morning."

Dave Thompson's award-winning retriever, Thor, died within hours of exposure to toxic blue-green algae on a duck-hunting trip to Quamicham Lake. (Dave Thompson)

A fourth bereaved dog owner, Dave Thompson, says he believes toxic blue-green algae also killed his dog. 

On Oct. 9, Thompson brought his award-winning retriever, Thor, to Quamichan Lake for the opening of duck-hunting season. 

Thor waded through a tributary creek to retrieve a duck and returned with his legs covered in green slime. Thompson tried to clean off the slime, but by the time they returned home to Bowser, Thor was vomiting. Despite admission to a veterinary hospital he was dead within hours. 

"He was only six, in the prime of life, and the loss has been devastating," Thompson said. "I hope dog owners pay attention. This is serious."

"He was a bit of a Houdini," Pascoe said, and would sometimes escape from their fenced lakeside property. (Dr. Lyn Pascoe)

Lakes not tested for algae

North Cowichan does not test local lakes for toxic algae, so Pascoe is awaiting test results from Quamichan Lake water samples she collected to confirm whether toxic algae is present. 

In the meantime, she has alerted local government and regional health officials about the circumstances of the dogs' deaths.

Warnings have been posted by the district at public recreational areas around Quamichan Lake. "We ourselves have gone around and put out posters and flyers to as many people as we can," Pascoe said. 

She and her partner consulted HealthLinkBC to learn more about blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria. The site advises that the periodic algae blooms can sometimes produce toxic chemicals, which can kill pets and livestock and make humans ill.

"I really didn't know my dog could die from it," Pascoe told All Points West guest host Richard Zussman. 

North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure says blue-green algae blooms occur in Quamicham and Somenos lakes in part due to runoff from farms and residential areas. (Google Maps)

North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure says algae blooms occur frequently in Quamichan and Somenos lakes. Agriculture and nearby residential development are contributing factors, as well as climate change and the shallowness of the lakes.

"I suspect with the warmer conditions it's something we're doing to be dealing with more frequently," Lefebure said.
"Take care of your pets because this is a very worrisome situation."

With files from Megan Thomas and CBC Radio One's All Points West

To hear the full interview with Dr. Lyn Pascoe, click the audio labelled: Toxic algae suspected in Cowichan-area dog deaths