In veterinary medicine nothing is ever straightforward, but we do see some disease processes more often than others. Through the process of elimination, most veterinarians look for the more routinely seen issues. Once these are ruled out, however, there are always a few “zebras” at the bottom of the list of possibilities.

While we seldom get into zebra territory, our veterinarians at Carriage Hills Animal Hospital do encounter these uncommon medical issues from time to time. We recently diagnosed a pet with one of these more unusual diagnoses, so we thought we would share a little bit about the disease known as pythiosis in dogs.

The Basics of Pythiosis in Dogs

Pythiosis in dogs is a systemic infection caused by a fungus-like organism called Pythium insidiosum. This unusual organism resides naturally in wet areas, such as swamps, wetlands, and ponds. Most dogs probably become infected when they take a dip in infested water. Bird dogs who frequently encounter standing water are at particularly high risk.

We certainly see more pythiosis in dogs here on the Gulf Coast, but the disease has been diagnosed throughout the country. It can manifest as a skin (cutaneous) disease or a gastrointestinal disease, and for some unlucky dogs, as both. Skin infections typically occur through an open wound, while the gastrointestinal form is thought to happen when infested water is consumed.

Signs of pythiosis include:

  • Small, ulcerated bumps on the skin (especially the tail, legs, stomach, and head)
  • Sores that won’t heal
  • Draining lesions
  • Intense itching
  • Decreased or absent appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss

Pythium is a slippery devil and can be hard to pin down. Diagnosis can be made through a biopsy and/or culture of the tissues, as well as through specialized laboratory testing used to detect the organism’s presence.

Treating the Zebra

When pythiosis is on the list of possibilities, it is important for us to act quickly. The sooner we are able to diagnose what the problem is, the faster we can begin treatment. Early and aggressive treatment, as a rule, results in the best outcomes.

Pythiosis in dogs was once a diagnosis of doom and gloom, but now it doesn’t always turn out negatively. Once a pythium infection has been detected, surgery is our best treatment option. Aggressive surgical excision of the affected tissues can prove to be curative. The longer the infection is present, though, the more likely there is widespread disease beyond what can be removed. This is why early action is so important.

Some dogs may also respond to antifungal medications in addition to surgery. Pythium is not technically a fungal organism, however, so these types of medications alone are not typically successful. Immunosuppressive drugs may also be helpful in treating our patients with this disease.

No one wants their pet to be diagnosed with something like pythiosis, but you can rest assured that no matter what your furry friend’s diagnosis might be, Carriage Hills Animal Hospital is well equipped to provide the best possible care. We are here for you, zebras and all.