Protecting your dog from deadly fungus - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Protecting your dog from deadly fungus


Spur the golden retriever is somewhat of a celebrity. The 4-year-old was featured at a recent veterinary conference for his amazing story of survival.

"Instead of having Christmas Day like normal people do, we spent it in an emergency vet clinic," Spur's owner Brister Shum said. She says Spur was struggling to breathe, lost part of his eyesight and developed skin lesions. "The doctor looked at his eye very carefully and said I think its Blastomycosis and I said, 'What?'"

Blastomycosis is a disease caused by a fungus that lives in moist soil.

"Blastomycosis Dermatitadis," is the scientific name says biology professor Terry Hill. He says the fungi looks for organic material to grow on, like decomposing wood and leaves. "It is endemic in this area. Most cases that are reported come from areas like this," he said.

Dogs that inhale the spores can develop a fungal infection in the lungs, eyes and on the skin.  If it's left untreated, it can be fatal.

Dr. Danielle Bayliss says once Spur was diagnosed, he spent days in intensive care. "His respiration was so compromised he was in an oxygen chamber," she said.

While all dogs are at risk for Blastomycosis, Spur fits the profile of those most susceptible: young large males who keep their nose to the ground.  

"Dogs that are more active, dogs that live perhaps near water like a lake, are at higher risk for exposure," Bayliss told WMCTV.

Preventing your dog from exposure is impossible. A map from the Centers for Disease Control shows the fungus is present across the midwest and even here in Central Virginia. 
"In the late summer and early fall is the time of year when it's diagnosed the most frequently," said veterinarian Dr. Stephanie Kemp of the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center. 
"It is a disease that can manifest in many different ways and something that can be really difficult to diagnose."

Doctors say the only line of defense is to monitor your pet for symptoms like labored breathing, loss of eyesight and skin lesions. However, the symptoms are not always the same. 

Fortunately Blastomycosis is not contagious. And it's not an epidemic. Kemp has only seen one case in Richmond in the last year. "Thankfully that environment isn't very common but further out it can happen. It's definitely a risk but I would call it a low risk in our area," she said.

Spur is on the mend and is expected to recover fully. His treatment is ongoing.  "We're very lucky to have had that team that helped us through it.  Plus you have a mommy that loves you," Shum said.

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