Our sweet Siberian husky puppy Luna passed away a few weeks ago at only 14 months old. Here is a link to our sweet girls life story. At the time we were unsure of the specific cause. We simply knew that she had a mass (that 3 months ago was small, and came back as inconclusive on the biopsy) that had now grown to fill her entire abdomen and take her life.
With her being so young, and since the vet had never seen anything like the mass he saw when he did her surgery, the vet was interested in doing a few extra tests after she passed to determine what caused her death. A hisopathology was done and gave us our answer. She didn’t pass away from cancer. Rather, the histopath picked up some pythium cells. She died of Pythosis.
Pythium Insidosum is a “parasitic spore that is capable of parasitic movement” and is categorized as a motile zoospore. It is a type of fungus that typically grows in swamps and other bodies of stagnant water, and is especially present in late summer months. This fungus is most common on the gulf shore, especially Louisiana.
When this deadly parasite finds its way into an animal’s body, whether through open wounds or by mouth, the infection is called Pythiosis. This disease is most common in young large breed dogs like Luna, but can occur in all dogs, cats, horses and even humans. There are two main types of pythiosis. This fungus can manifest itself in the intestinal tract or in the skin.
Skin infections start looking like a small puncture wound and over time spread into large ulcerative abscesses. Lesions can form on the legs, tail, head, neck, and more. I don’t as much about this type because my dog didn’t have this type, but apparently the fungus easily attaches to hair and skin and eats away at the skin until the tissue dies and turns black. If the lesions are contained to one extremity it is possible to attempt amputation to remove the fungus.
Intestinal pythiosis will cause the dog to display symptoms weeks to months after exposure to the parasite. Symptoms include diarrhea, bloody stool, vomiting after eating, loss of energy and weight loss. All of which our baby experienced. The fungus gets into the intestines which can cause intestinal blockage, intestinal wall thickening and an abdominal mass. Pythiosis is sometimes nicknamed “swamp cancer” because the fungus can grow to form a cancer-like mass, like it did in our baby, that can obstruct bowel and eventually grow to fill the abdomen.
Blood can be drawn and sent off to the Pythium Laboratory at Louisiana State University to confirm the diagnosis. A biopsy, or tissue sample can also suggest the diagnosis but a culture must be done to confirm it in this case. This parasite is new and wasn’t around 10-20 years ago when most practicing vets went to school. Also since it is typically seen in swampy areas, many vets who practice even a few hours north of the swamps won’t have heard or have had much experience with it. They may not recognize the signs or know about the blood test because it is simply just not common.
It is important for all pet parents to know about this disease no matter where you are, especially if you allow your dogs to be around any form of water. Our dog was only around water two times in her life. Once at a public lake in Memphis, and another time canoeing in clear running water in Missouri. Somehow, at either one of these places or at another unknown time, she picked up this parasite that ultimately took her life. Though it isn’t very common and is mainly only seen on the coast, c have been reported in many states including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Virginia.
Early detection is extremely important when it comes to survival and treatment. First signs for intestinal pythiosis include loose to very watery stool, refusal to eat, and vomiting. Many vets will assume and confirm based on radiologic studies that your dog has a bowel obstruction or cancer as signs, symptoms, and imaging may appear the same. If your dog has come in contact with water and is having these symptoms it may be a good idea to see if the vet thinks there is any possibility that your dog could have this condition. When our dog first showed symptoms in November the vet did X-rays and a GI series and believed that she had a bowel obstruction. They thought they may be able to go in and remove the object. When he opened her up and found the mass, it was already too late for her because the fungus had formed a mass on the junction of her large and small bowel and was in a location that was unable to be removed. Typically the only treatment is aggressive surgery, laser treatment to kill filaments left behind, and immunotherapy medicine to attempt to help the dog’s body fight off the parasite. Lymph nodes must also be evaluated for invasion.
I want to share Luna’s story because early detection can save your pets life. I don’t want anyone or their pet to have to go through what our family did. Please feel free to share this information with anyone you know who has dogs that swim in ponds, swamps or really any water. Pets are like family. If you notice that your dog has bloody stool, constant diarrhea, anorexia, or constant vomiting after eating, I encourage you take your baby to the vet, let them be evaluated. You never know, they could have something as simple as worms or as serious and life threatening as a bowel obstruction or Pythiosis.
Feel free to share this article so that pet parents can know the signs and get their dogs treated for this. Luna is gone, but I hope her story will be able to help other dogs that unfortunately contract this disease.