EDITOR’S NOTE: Portions of this article are from a feature that was originally printed in HTF on Sept. 8, 2017. Given the recent loss of our third dog to blasto, I felt it was worth revisiting. – Kirsten Reichel, HTF Staff Writer
I am not a veterinarian, and certainly not an expert on blastomycosis (blasto), but I have experience with the fungal infection since we have had three dogs who have suffered through it.
On July 21, 2006, our Labrador Tater was diagnosed with blasto and underwent treatment for the next six months. Unfortunately, she had an acute case, was not able to fight it, and eventually passed away.
At the time, we were not aware of what the symptoms were. Had we been, the outcome may have been different, but she was definitely a very sick dog when we brought her to Northland Animal Hospital in Virginia.
What alerted me that something was wrong was that she was gagging and hacking, as though she had a stick or something lodged in her throat. We checked several times to see what the foreign object could be but could find nothing. Eventually she began to hack out black sputum and that’s when we knew she had some issues that needed to be checked.
After we lost Tater, we were happy to welcome a new Labrador puppy to our home; we named her Lulu. She had only been with us for a few months when she began having the same hacking symptoms as Tater. I got her to the vet immediately and she tested positive for blasto. Fortunately, we caught it in an early stage and the medication worked right away.
Fast-forward to August 11, 2016. I noticed that Lulu had very white gums and seemed lethargic. I suspected she was anemic but didn’t know why. The diagnosis – blasto – again.
What puzzled me was that she had none of what I had come to know as the typical symptoms. None of the gagging or hacking and no apparent signs of distress. However, an x-ray of her lungs showed that they were black with the fungus. She started her treatment of an antifungal medication that day. We ended up treating Lulu for blasto for two years. It never did completely leave her system, but she was asymptomatic and we just decided to stop the medications and let nature take its course.
We said our final goodbye to Lulu in Jan. of 2020. She was almost 12 years of age. We can’t specifically say that blasto was the cause of death, but it certainly took its toll on her for the twoplus years she battled it.
We encountered blasto again on April 6 of 2020. Our 13-year-old schnauzer Tilly started having difficulty breathing, was lethargic, and not eating. A trip to the vet showed that she was positive for blasto. Tilly was placed on a medication regimen, but after a couple of weeks it proved to be too much for her and we said our final farewell to her on April 21. It’s the first time in about 30 years there has not been a dog in the Reichel home; it has been too quiet and we miss them terribly.
Dr. Wright, a veterinarian at Northland Animal Hospital, indicated that there are several ways the fungus can enter and manifest itself in the body. Typically the fungal spore is inhaled and lodges in the lungs. However, the fungus can also work itself into the system through the eyes or through open sores on the skin.
Dr. Wright said, “Urinalysis testing has made such a difference in how we are now able to diagnose blasto. One thing we do see is a high number of canine blasto in dogs that live in the Lake Vermilion area.”
Time between exposure to the spores and when symptoms develop varies widely, ranging from 21 to 100 days. Unfortunately, antibiotics do not work against blasto. There are no known practical measures for the prevention of blastomycosis.
In dogs, the most common signs of illness from blasto are lethargy, low appetite and fever, followed by cough and difficulty breathing. However, many dogs also have non-healing or draining skin sores or eye problems and blindness. These skin sores and eye infections usually occur when blasto has spread from the lungs to the rest of the body.