November 1, 2021
Blastomycosis in Dogs: What to Know
We recently got the news that one of our Rover-Time dogs has been diagnosed with the disease Blastomycosis, a serious respiratory condition caused by fungi that enter a dog’s body through the nose or an open wound.
However, none of us had ever heard of Blastomycosis before. We decided to do some research and learn more about what this diagnosis means and to share that information with our clients.”
What is Blastomycosis?
“Blastomycosis is a fungal disease that often starts as a respiratory problem for both dogs and people although it can spread through many parts of the body. A dog picks up the fungi by inhaling the spores, found usually in damp soil or leaves, which then spread throughout the body. Additionally, the spores are able to enter a dog’s body through an open wound. The fungi live mostly in warmer Southwest states, but a dog can contract Blastomycosis in Illinois as well. The fungi are pervasive, which means that there is no way to totally eliminate them. Dogs are far more likely to contract Blastomycosis than other species.
What are the signs that my dog has Blastomycosis?
Getting a diagnosis of Blastomycosis can be tricky because so many of the symptoms mimic other, less serious diseases. Here are some of the common symptoms to look for.
- Hard breathing – The spores often attack the lunges, so heavy panting could be an early indicator.
- Draining skin lesions
- Loss of appetite
- Unusually lethargic – A possible early sign
- Inflamed eyes
- Enlarged lymph nodes
Not all vets will test for Blastomycosis. If you know that your dog was somewhere woodsy or by a body of water and they are exhibiting any of those symptoms, you may need to request that the doctor test for Blastomycosis.
Our clients Matt and Jenna wanted to share their story and how it looked when their dog Coltrane contracted Blastomycosis
“We are Jenna Buda and Matthew Farrell and we have been Rover-Time clients since January 2020. We adopted our German Shepherd Mix, Coltrane, in December of 2019, and he currently is 2.5 years old. Now we know, in retrospect, that Coltrane’s blastomycosis journey started in late September if not in the months before. A few times a day for about a week that month, Coltrane had episodes during which it seemed that he was trying to clear his throat. He did not have a traditional cough, and the episodes were very brief and sporadic.
On September 23, he had an episode that lasted about an hour during which he was breathing rapidly, but it resolved. He already was scheduled to see our primary vet on September 24 for an annual wellness exam and vaccinations. We discussed the episodes with his vet, and she thought it could be environmental allergies, as pollen and mold counts were high at that time. During his examination, his heart and lungs sounded great, and he had blood work, the results of which were normal.
Exactly two weeks after his annual exam, Coltrane would not open his right eye. We returned to the vet concerned about a foreign body in the eye or a corneal ulcer. There was no evidence of either, and our vet diagnosed him with allergic conjunctivitis and started him on an eye ointment. Three days later, his eye had not improved, so we returned to the vet. Again, there was no evidence of any corneal damage, and it simply looked like conjunctivitis had not resolved. We tried a different antibiotic eye drop.
Two days later, Coltrane’s eye was cloudy and had significant discharge. Concerned about the rapid deterioration of the eye, we reached out to a veterinary ophthalmology practice that saw Coltrane on an emergent basis. Coltrane was diagnosed with uveitis, an inflammation of the middle of the eye. The ophthalmologist explained that uveitis is not a disease itself, but a symptom of a disease process. Blastomycosis was at the top of the list of her potential diagnoses.
What does treatment for Blastomycosis look like?
We were very fortunate that the ophthalmologist thought it was Blastomycosis because even before getting lab results, we started Coltrane immediately on anti-fungal medication that likely improved his prognosis significantly. Despite starting the anti-fungal medication and using several different eye drops, Coltrane quickly developed glaucoma in the right eye. For a variety of reasons, it became clear that his right eye would need to be removed. He underwent surgery on October 22.
How is Coltrane doing now?
Since his surgery, his overall health has improved. We know that he still has Blasto, as it is a stubborn, systemic disease that takes many months to resolve, but it appears, in his case, that the infection was concentrated in his eye. He has been cleared by the ophthalmologist, and his left eye remains healthy. We now will start treating with an internal medicine specialist who will track the Blastomycosis antigen levels in Coltrane’s body and determine how long he will need to continue treatment. Usually, dogs must continue treatment for several months after a zero antigen result to prevent recurrence of the infection.
And we were lucky in that Coltrane received his diagnosis and started treatment very shortly after first presenting symptoms. Many other families are not as lucky, taking many months to get a diagnosis, not receiving timely treatment and, sometimes, losing their dogs to the infection. Blasto looks like a lot of other things and no two dogs present identically, making it difficult to diagnose. We didn’t know about Blasto until Coltrane’s diagnosis and did not realize it was endemic in the Midwest, so we are encouraging other pet parents to educate themselves on the symptoms and discuss it with their vets. Stay safe, Rover-Time family!”
This is scary, what can I do to prevent this?
Unfortunately, since it is spread through fungi, there is no way to 100% prevent a dog from contracting Blastomycosis. However, the survival rate for young, healthy dogs is good. Early detection is the best way to prevent this disease from becoming life-threatening. We hope that this article helps dog owners to know a little bit more about Blastomycosis and what symptoms can look like.
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Zoe Sjogerman is the Northwest Manager for Rover-time. She is also the Executive Director of Avalanche Theatre and enjoys snuggling on the couch with her husband Sam and dog George.