Karen Gadke, Ph.D. (Health Science) is a retired clinical study specialist, medical writer, and lecturer. She has been training and racing sled dogs, many of them rescued huskies, for 30 years. She owns both Siberians and Alaskans. Karen is an internationally published author on animal issues, awareness and education and a welcome addition to AFSBC.
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It’s springtime, the ground is soft, and my dogs are ecstatic because they can dig again. I stop what I’m doing and run out to fill and cover the holes. No, not because they are digging up my flowerbeds. My dogs have their own fenced exercise area. Then why am I worried? The answer is “blastomycosis,” a fungal disease as vicious as the worst type of cancer. Blastomycosis, hereafter called blasto, comes from a fungus (Blastomyces dermatitidis) that lives in the ground in some areas of the country, especially around bodies of water. The fungus prefers wet acid soil, but it also thrives in sandy soil. Several years ago it was found in rotting wood in northern Wisconsin. I know it occurs in Boone County because two of my Siberian huskies contracted the disease in 2003. Both were enthusiastic diggers. The first dog survived with aggressive treatment, but succumbed to a relapse a year later. The second dog survived, but both of his eyes had to be enucleated (surgically removed).
Blasto – with a set of symptoms that mimic other diseases - occurs most frequently in dogs and people; farmers, construction workers and gardeners are at risk. However, in humans the manifestation is usually limited to the skin. The disease can occur in other species, i.e., cats and horses, although less frequently. Blasto can attack any part of the body. It usually starts with one, but the destruction goes on like the spread of cancer. In dogs it frequently begins in the lungs. The dog develops a cough and a fever, symptoms that resemble pneumonia. He may start limping, have a suddenly appearing hemorrhaging skin lesion, often inside the mouth, vomit blood or pass bloody stools, or the eyes may appear cloudy or infected. In some individuals the eyes are the only part affected. An Eagle River, Wisconsin veterinarian found the fungus in the heart muscle of a dog during necropsy.
The reason for the initial infection of the lungs is that the spores are usually inhaled, but there may be other points of entry, i.e., broken skin. From there it can spread anywhere in the body. No organ is safe. No season of the year is safe, either, but I relax somewhat when the ground is frozen or covered with snow. I never relax completely, and I’m aware that a digger can also carry the fungus on the feet for another dog to inhale when sniffing the ground.
The diagnosis is not always conclusive. It includes examination of material drained from a lesion or lymph node under the microscope, lung X-rays which, in a dog with blasto, resemble a picture of a blizzard, complete blood count (CBC) and chem. screen. The latter is done to rule out other conditions, but it does not diagnose blasto. Fungal titers in the blood may confirm the diagnosis. Unfortunately, the result is often negative despite unmistakable signs of the disease.
If you notice any of the symptoms described above, contact your veterinarian immediately. While waiting for your appointment you may want to take the pet’s temperature every 2 to 3 hours. Ask your vet or vet tech how to do it if you do not know how. Normal temperature is 101 degrees, but up to 102 is considered normal. If the temperature spikes to 103 or 104 degrees, then drops, then spikes again, you can make a valuable contribution to the doctor’s diagnosis. Survival of blasto depends on early diagnosis and aggressive treatment with antifungal drugs, i.e., itraconazole or fluconazole. Treatment is usually conducted for four to six months and is expensive. An estimated 85% of treated dogs survive. The fungus can be dormant for years. The relapse rate has been estimated to be between 5 and 25%. The more time passes since the cure, the lower the relapse probability becomes.
The bug season is here – time to watch for sudden swelling on the side of your dog or cat’s face or other body part, even the inside of the mouth. Although this can be the result of trauma (i.e., playing too rough), but most likely the swelling is the result of a wasp or bee sting, or a spider bite. You can apply a cool pack to reduce the swelling and the pain. Put a wet washcloth on the swollen area and then a commercial cool pack, even a package of frozen veggies will do. Apply several times/day for periods of 10 to 20 minutes. If it does not start to go down, there may be infection and the pet needs medical attention, so call the clinic and describe what you see, and do it before the end of business hours so you don’t end up in the emergency clinic. Feed only soft food in order to make eating less painful. If you are sure that the swelling is the result of a bite or sting, you can administer Benadryl (antihistamine) to lessen the allergic reaction. The pills usually come in 25 mg per pill. Pets need 1 mg. per pound of body weight every 6 to 8 hours. That means a 10 lb cat or dog should get about ½ of a pill. Since this will tend to make the pet sleepy, he will be less bothered by the pain. Bees leave their stinger behind, so look for it because the stinger can continue to pump venom into the animal. You can scrape it free with a credit card or the blunt edge of a knife, possibly a fingernail, and dab on Peroxide to disinfect the spot. Between cool pack treatments you can apply calamine lotion. Stings inside the mouth are especially hard to treat, and you don’t want to risk being bitten. You can offer ice cubes to lick.
A sting can be dangerous if your pet has a severe, life-threatening reaction. More on the latter will be described in the April “Corner."
Shedding season is here again. Those of us with longhaired pets know what that means. Taking care of our loved ones when they need our help is a labor of love. Right? That includes our four-legged loved ones. And, for our cats and dogs it means spending extra time grooming. It’s easier to prevent mats than having to untangle and sometimes cut them off, and it prevents hairballs in your cats. Is there anything more beautiful than a freshly groomed longhaired cat? Consider brushing quality time spent with your pet, not a chore. That way you can enjoy the grooming time. It’s how you perceive it!
Farm and feral cat spay/neuter support will be available shortly through the fund-raising activities of our dedicated volunteers. Please come back to this website in a few days and check the CATS page for details. Let us help you prevent future accidental litters and cope with this enormous problem of cat overpopulation.
Questions or comments? Send e-mail to email@example.com. By now my readers know that I’m passionate about helping people keep their pets healthy.
(Karen’s Corner pet health tips are not meant to replace veterinary care when needed.)