Photo by flickr user TheGiantVermin

Ask the Vet: Pythiosis

The Problem: Considered a tropical pathogen (I guess we are becoming more tropical what with global warming), pythium is a parasite of grasses at the edges of water with fluctuating levels. When infected plants are inundated, the pythium, considered a "pseudo-fungus", releases reproductive bodies into the water to infect other plants.

These cells can also infect animal tissue thru breaks in the skin, or if swallowed, thru any irritation in the gastro-intestinal tract. Once in the tissue the organism grows while the body has a localized inflammatory reaction to the invading cells and a cancer-like mass develops, and like a cancer it will spread to surrounding tissue.

I lost one perfectly healthy dog to pythiosis 6 years ago and because of it's rarity in our area at the time, I was told it was just an unfortunate fluke that my dog contracted it. Now, 6 yrs later, I've had another seemingly healthy dog also contract pythiosis, so it isn't a fluke, the pathogen is definitely present in at least some of the lakes and ponds in our area. What does your veterinary panel know about this disease and how to avoid it?

The Solution:

Recently there has been talk of a potential Pythiosis outbreak here in Charleston. Pythium insidiosum is a fungus-like organism most commonly found in ponds, swamps and wetlands of tropical to subtropical areas. The most common form of the disease occurs when the organism is ingested while swimming. Gastrointestinal symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, severe depression and weight loss. Less often the organism can enter the skin through an existing wound to form a rapidly growing tumor like lesion. Since the symptoms of both forms can easily mimic far more common diseases, it has historically been difficult to diagnose and most often fatal.

While attending Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, I saw my first and only case of Pythium. Thanks to Dr Amy Grooters, the world's leading authority and creator of the simple blood test, the dog was promptly diagnosed and treated. He returned to his loving family and I had the good fortune of learning from the best.

While there have been reported cases in South Carolina, it is far less common than such states as Louisiana and Florida. In fact, based on Dr Grooters laboratory there have been no more than 2 confirmed cases a year over the last 10 years in the state and only a few from Charleston.

Although Pythiosis is a devastating disease, it has not been shown to be a cause for alarm to our Low Country dog lovers.. For those who are worried that their dogs may be exposed to Pythium it is best to bathe them with some type of soap/shampoo after they swim (the infective zoospores are killed by soaps) and to test dogs early in the course of disease. Vomiting is a symptom of multiple diseases so not all vomiting dogs should be tested.

However, if your dog is high risk (young to middle aged dogs that spend a significant amount of time outdoors, especially large breed dogs) and develops symptoms of vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, or skin wounds that do not resolve within a week or two, testing for pythiosis should be considered. The blood test developed by Dr Grooters is nearly 100% accurate while other laboratories who offer similar testing have a much greater chance of a false positive. This could result in extensive and unwarranted treatment.

Maybank Animal Hospital is a full-service small animal veterinary hospital providing comprehensive medical, surgical and dental care. Our facility houses a comprehensive pharmacy, in-house laboratory, full imaging services including X-ray and ultrasound, and a centrally located hospitalization area allowing us to monitor your pet at all times. In addition, we offer fantastic boarding and daycare.

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