We all do what we can to protect the dogs we love. While we try to avoid unnecessary risks by keeping dogs away from things we know aren’t good for them such as chocolate and toxic plants, there are always new things to learn. There is a dog illness that while relatively uncommon, is on the rise. This potentially fatal illness is called blastomycosis. It can steal your dog’s sight in days or in the worst cases, their life.
-What is Blastomycosis? Blastomycosis (also referred to as “Blasto”) is a systemic disease caused by the blastomyces dermatitidis fungus. Once its spores are inhaled, it causes a yeast to rapidly grow in the lungs. The fungus may then may then spread to other tissue causing additional severe symptoms.
-What are the symptoms? Some common Blasto symptoms are loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, decreased stamina, respiratory ailments, swollen lymph glands, and eye infections or lesions (particularly those that impact the iris). Bloody or pus filled skin lesions which do not heal may also develop as a result of fungal spores entering those areas externally.
-How does a dog get Blasto? Dogs may contract Blasto by inhaling the spores of the blastomyces dermatitidis fungus. The fungus is most often found in damp, dark, wooded areas. Very dry settings may also facilitate transmission as dusty soil that gets kicked up by digging and foraging may contain the spores. In the US, most cases occur in the South, Midwest, and Upper Plains States but is not limited to those areas. Blasto spores may also be picked up in open sores and wounds. It is important to note most infected dogs live within 400 meters of a body of water.
-Why is Chicago a haven for Blasto? The lake has something to do with it because soil by the water is the primary place to get that disease. A majority of cases are seen in the spring because the conditions are ideal for the fungus.
-I’m concerned my dog is showing symptoms of Blasto. What do I do? It is very important blastomycosis be diagnosed early so treatment can begin as soon as possible. An incorrect diagnosis that leads to initial treatment with antibiotics may actually worsen the disease. Blasto is often incorrectly diagnosed as cancer or Lyme Disease, so alert your veterinarian if your dog may have been exposed to fungal spores in a damp, dark, high risk area in the previous 6 weeks. Tests to reach a correct diagnosis may include lung x-rays, examination of lymph node cells, and urine analysis.
-Treatment: Blasto is currently treated long term with antifungal medication. Current treatment options may cause side-effects that require careful monitoring and tends to be quite costly. It can range anywhere from 5000.00 to 10,000 to treat one dog with Blasto. Dietary changes may also be necessary to promote the best possible nutrition to help the dog maintain and rebuild strength.
Prognosis: Early detection and treatment are essential to a good outcome. Of dogs that begin treatment, 25% do not survive, most often due respiratory failure. As you start the treatment, and the fungus starts to die, it lets loose in the lungs and can cause them to go into respiratory failure at any time during the first few weeks of treatment. There is also a reported 25% relapse rate. It can take up to a year of treatment to completely rid the body of this fungus.
Prevention: Dogs most certainly will be dogs, so it makes it hard to avoid conditions where the blastomyces dermatitidis fungus lives. When possible, limit your dog’s exposure to damp, dark areas where there is a lot of decaying material. While the shores of swampy areas and ponds provide great smells, they are high risk areas for fungus. When it is time to be outdoors, try to choose drier, sunny areas for hikes and other adventures.
As your dog’s best friend, being well informed and able to communicate effectively with their healthcare provider is one of the most important things you can do to keep your pal healthy and happy. Hopefully, taking a few simple steps and being alert to your dog’s surroundings will let you share your life with your canine pal for many years to come.
****It’s A Pittie Rescue is currently caring for a loving pitbull named Lenny who has blastomycosis. Three of his systems are affected by this disease: his eyes, his lungs, and his skin. It has caused blindness in his eyes, he keeps developing lesions on his skin that burst open, and it causes major congestion in the lungs. If you would like to help with Lenny’s treatment costs please feel free to submit a donation by clicking the ‘Donation’ link (on the right-hand side of this page). Every little bit helps and is greatly appreciated.