Soil disease could quickly kill dogs

Published: Jul. 17, 2014 at 4:27 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 17, 2014 at 4:39 PM CDT
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Something lurking in the soil could quickly kill your pet unless you act just as quickly. Blastomycosis is a soil disease vets and owners in every Heartland state say they are dealing with and want you to be aware.

Some are seeing a a rise in a few more reported local cases of the deadly dog disease from soil. It often occurs in the Mississippi River area regions.

Angie Neeley is a pet owner from Ullin who’s trying to save her dog, Sandra Lou, who was luckily diagnosed soon after she noticed symptoms.

"She just had that help me look in her eyes," said Neely. "When our vet heard her breathing over the phone he told me she may not make it through the night."

According to veterinarians in the Heartland, Blastomycosis is a very difficult disease to diagnose in dogs.

"Its common in the Mississippi River region and lives in sandy acidic soil near water. Most infected dogs live within 400 meters of water. They get the fungal spores from inhalation in infected regions," said Dr. Sean Byrd of Skyview Animal Clinic in Cape Girardeau.

"Humans can get, but dogs are 10 times more likely to get infected," said Dr. Byrd. "Even so, it is a rare disease to see in animals in this region, with only a handful diagnosed each year."

The disease is not contagious between people and animals.

The primary disease is a respiratory infection, causing labored breathing, coughing and exercise intolerance. The fungal organism can spread to the eyes, intestinal tract, joints, skin and even the nervous system.

"Often the diagnosis is part of a process based on clinical signs of the disease and lack of response to antibiotics. The testing can be difficult, with blood and urine tests being somewhat accurate. Biopsy and visually identifying the fungal spore under a microscope are the most accurate tests, but can be difficult to obtain," said Dr. Byrd.

He says treatment involves antifungals, and if caught early, the success rate is good.

"I have seen several of these cases over the years. They are often respiratory in nature, but I have seen draining skin lesions and eye lesions," said Dr. Byrd.

Veterinarians stress the worst part may be the fact that you can't prevent it. Since dogs always have their noses in the dirt, it's especially common in regions just like the Mississippi Valley.

Experts say the earlier the disease is caught the better the chance for survival rate. There are medications for treatment.

Sandra Lou is just starting to eat real food for the first time. Before that, she had to be fed by syringe. Neeley says the pitbull is still only two thirds her normal size, down to around 40 pounds from 60 plus.

"The dog always has their nose in the dirt so there's no preventing it there's no vaccination there's no anything," said Neeley.

Sandra Lou is on medication and fighting hard but still not out of the woods. Neeley has to constantly monitor the illness until she's fully recovered. She plans to get her dog tested every year.

"Besides the tests that diagnosed her, the x-rays were quite alarming," said Neeley. "From the breathing and the cough, once we saw her x-rays her windpipe looks like it should but her lungs there was just a cloud. It grabs hold of the dogs so hard we almost lost her in a matter of days. She's breathing quietly and it took three weeks of syringe feeding but I believe it was yesterday she finally ate a handful of dry kibble which is tremendous. We just want her to keep getting better," said Neeley.

Veterinarians say awareness is key. Look for signs like labored breathing, a cough, skin issues, or eyesight problems if you suspect get your dog tested.

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