It is very common for customers to keep in touch with us after they adopt one of our Cockapoo puppies, and we really appreciate it, we love to see how the dogs grow and develop over time, and even if someone calls with a quick question we hope we are able to help in any way possible. A few weeks ago I had a customer call for some advice, his family had adopted a puppy named Linus from us two years ago and was encountering some health issues. Linus had lost his appetite, was throwing up, had diarrhea, and was lethargic so the family wanted to know if I had any ideas or advice as to what was going on. First we started off by going over the things the family was doing to treat and diagnose his issues. I asked if he had been taken to the vet, he was, and I wanted to know how the vet was handling the situation. When your pet develops health issues it is very important to be sure your vet is educated and doing the proper treatment. I wanted to be sure that Linus was being properly treated so I asked if the family had submitted a stool sample for testing, if blood tests were being done, and if lactated ringers (IV fluid) was administered to help him stay hydrated. Thankfully all the answers were 'yes,' and I was confident that the family, and their vet, were doing exactly what they should to try and find out what the problem was.
Since I am not a vet we just spoke about his symptoms and current treatments so that I could possibly come up with fresh ideas and offer any advice on what I thought what going on. I asked if they had changed his food, they had not too long ago, and their vet also changed it again to try and help battle his vomiting and loose stool. I asked if anything had changed in their household that he may be having a reaction to: new carpet, new cleaning products, did a pest control company treat their house or a close neighbors, had he been exposed to any new dogs recently? All of this was to try and help the owner see if any recent changes to the household or their activity could be affecting Linus. From all the information I was given I thought it would be a good idea to do an allergy test and also to test Linus for Lyme's disease. Their vet also thought that allergies may be affecting him and had rushed a blood sample to the lab for allergy tests. I asked that they keep in touch on the progress and let me know what they had found out about Linus.
After repeated visits to their vet and then a specialist Linus was determined to have contracted Phythiosis, otherwise knows as "Swamp Cancer," and unfortunately had to be put down. Of course I was very upset to hear the news and felt very bad for the family, they certainly were not given enough time to enjoy their wonderful puppy. I had never heard of Phythiosis so I went to work doing research on this potentially fatal disease and wanted to spread the word so that people become more aware of it and be sure to test their dogs if they develop any symptoms.
What is Phythiosis?
Phythiosis is an uncommon fungal infection that can occur in dogs, horses, and also rarely in cats. It is derived from an aquatic mold called Phythium Insidiosum that can be found in stagnant water. It is most commonly found in swampy/tropical areas of the Southern United States but has also been found in the Central Valley of California (Linus lived in Florida.) It generally enters the animals system through their sinuses, esophagus, or wounds on the skin and is most active in Fall or early Winter months where the fungus can thrive in ponds, wetlands, and swamps.
Symptoms and Types of Phythiosis:
There are two types of Phythiosis: Cutaneous and GI. Cutaneous causes non healing lesions on the animals legs, head, tail, neck, and inner thighs. These lesions eventually cause tissue death where the skin turns black and wastes away.
GI Phythiosis is more common and what Linus suffered from. GI Phythiosis affects the dogs digestive tract and symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, fever, and abdominal pain. GI is a chronic disease and it will cause the walls of the stomach and intestine to thicken.
One of the most scary parts about Phythiosis is that it is a relatively new and emerging infection that many vets may not be aware of. The symptoms caused by GI Phythiosis are often caused by lots of other ailments so your vet may not immediately consider, or be aware of this, and not test for it until it's too late, which was what happened with Linus. To test for this your vet can take a swab sample to be studied with a microscope or material can be cultured in a lab for study and testing. A blood sample can be sent in for testing, a urine sample can be tested, and an ultrasound can also be done to detect thickening in the walls of the intestine or stomach.
The sooner you get treatment the better, if the disease is not diagnosed in a timely manner it may be too late and unfortunately this is what happened with Linus. For the Cutaneous form of Phythiosis affected tissue will need to be surgically removed and any remaining, affected tissue will need further treatment via laser to kill any remaining fungus. For the GI type of Phythiosis your vet may choose to put your dog on Anti-Fungal medications but results may be minimal and can severely affect the liver and kidneys so regular blood tests will be required. Another, newer option, is an immunotherapeutic vaccine that has been approved by the USDA to treat Phythiosis, as soon as your dog is diagnosed as having Phythiosis it is important that they are vaccinated to help their immune system fight against the disease. Dogs may also be given anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and boost their appetite which will also help their immune system to fight against the disease.
I hope I never have to hear about another dog contracting this awful disease, please spread the word to your friends that have pets and also ask your vet if they are aware of it and hopefully we can help spread the word and avoid a late and fatal prognosis.
Since this was my first time ever hearing about Phythiosis I had to do a lot of research online and found the following websites to be very helpful: