Infectious Diseases and Parasites

Submitted November 24, 2008

Q.) What are the symptoms of blastomycosis besides coughing? What is involved in the test to detect its presence?

A.) First a little background, Blastomycosis is a systemic fungal infection casued by the fungus Blasomyces dermatitidis. It is thought to be a soil-borne organism mainly associated with moist soil, particularly around lakes, ponds, waterways, etc. being the most common exposure risk. While found elsewhere it is often thought of as a disease of the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio River valleys. With this being a hunting-dog site, on a personal note, I will say it seems to be common in areas of Wisconsin and Minnesota and I've also seen it in Iowa and to a lesser degree South Dakota. Dogs are thought to be infected when they inhale the fungal spores from the environment. It is important to note that other animals, including humans, can be affected by Blastomycosis. Unfortunately there is no way to predict which dogs or people will become affected and certainly you could hunt all of your dogs in the same affected area with only one coming down with the disease and no explanation of why that dog got sick and the others did not.

The most common presenting problem with a dog with blasto is a cough. This cough can range from extreme to very mild. Subsequent x-rays and other diagnostic tests lead to a suspicion of the disease. While the cough is the most common the disease can present with a number of symptoms that can occur singularly or together. These include anorexia, weight loss, eye problems, limping or lameness, pain, and in some cases skin sores. In my experience the three most common presentations I've seen would be cough, skin issues and eye problems. On the odd-side I have had one case involving the bones, and one involving the testicles.

Diagnosis of blasto is made through identification of the organism. There are some blood tests available for fungal infections; however, the best method is trying to actually identify the organism in the dog. The samples to identify the organism will be dependent on the symptoms your dog is exhibiting. If there is a cough, with signs of the disease on x-ray, a tracheal wash may need to be performed where fluid is washed into and out of the airways and then examined. With skin lesions sometimes samples taken from the surface or biopsies are needed to confirm the diagnosis. If the lymph nodes are enlarged they can be sampled. Essentially the symptoms and location will dictate how the disease can be diagnosed. In some cases the dog will have all the symptoms of a fungal infection but your vet may be unable to obtain a sample to identify the organism, in these cases the blood tests can be helpful in sorting out the condition.

One final note is that this can be an extremely expensive disease to treat, because the drug of choice is very expensive and the treatment timeframe is often months. Thankfully there are now some compounding pharmacies in the southwest that have this drug available much cheaper than at the local pharmacy. In some cases we could be talking about hundreds of dollars per month cheaper. It was not too many years ago that many blasto positive dogs were being put to sleep because owners could not afford the expensive treatment. With the advent of these mail-order pharmacies, thakfully, that doesn't happen as frequently, though not every veterinarian or owner is aware of this option yet.

Submitted 10/22/07:
Our seven-year old lab has developed a swollen right foot just below the joint. At times when the foot is swollen she can’t put any weight on it. Our vet has her on Doxycycline twice a day. After a couple of days she is fine but the swelling is still pronounced. After a series of tests which were negative, could it be a tick bite or heart failure?

With your description and your vet’s treatment choice, I suspect a tick-borne disease is highest on the list of possibilities. The one concern I’d have is that the swelling is still present. In my experience with Lyme disease and anaplasmosis (the only tick diseases I’ve treated), typically the dogs respond to antibiotics within 24-48 hours and most of the symptoms resolve, including swellings. Of course not all dogs read the textbooks.

With the swelling still present I would strongly recommend x-rays to see if there is something else going on to cause the swelling at the bone/joint level. If the x-rays check out it may be worthwhile to repeat some of the tick panels to see if there have been any changes. If everything checks out to be normal, then I would wonder about an injury to a ligament, tendon or muscle which won’t necessarily show up on x-rays but can definitely cause swelling and discomfort. Regardless of the test results, because she seemed to improve on the antibiotics I would strongly suggest finishing the course your vet has prescribed and resist the urge to discontinue them early.

Submitted 3/17/07:
I have a three-year old dog that has never been on heartworm medication. I’ve been told she should be on it so I bought some on E-bay. My question is should she be tested prior to starting the medication?

I think this question illustrates the good and the bad of the internet and the internet's limitations. I’m guessing you may have found out about heartworms via an internet discussion site, which is good. However, I would strongly discourage buying medications from a source like E-bay, as you have no idea what you are buying or how it has been handled.

I would strongly recommend you establish a relationship with a local veterinarian so that you can get correct information about your dog’s health and care. Prior to starting the medications you should have her tested, especially since she is not currently on preventative. If a dog is positive there is the potential for an anaphylactic reaction if you start the preventative prior to treating the heartworm disease. I commend your for trying to get more information for your dog’s health; however, I would really recommend that information come from a local veterinarian. Sometimes free internet advice can be the most expensive alternative.

Submitted 4/16/05:
I’ve been using Advantix (this year) or Frontline (last year) on my dog, and last year had problems with ticks still attaching even though I was applying the medicine every three weeks. If ticks still attach while using Advantix, can I use a tick collar as well? If so, are there any recommendation to which one is safe?

You’ll notice from my earlier post that I’m a big fan of Frontline. The one problem that people do have is that it is not a repellant, but rather an insecticide which means you will still find ticks on your dog and some of them will be attached. The hope is that they will be killed prior to transmitting any of the tick borne diseases. Usually you'll notice that the ones that are attaching are usually dead or very slow when you take them off. It is very important to also make sure you are applying it correctly and getting it down on the skin and not just on the haircoat. I have only had one or two dogs in the last five or more years that I can think of that Frontline didn't work and it was likely due to the oil layers on those dogs not being adequate to support the product.

I personally do not have any experience with Advantix and so won’t comment one way or the other. However, I do have a friend who recently switched his practice from Advantix to Frontline. Frontline is extremely safe as it is only absorbed into the oil layer of the body and not into the body itself. It is also very waterproof after 24 hours and bath proof after 48 hours; the other products usually are not.

As far as using a tick collar, off the top of my head I cannot think of a complication with using it in combination; however, I would touch base with the company of the product you are using to ensure there are no reactions or potential for overdosing using the two products together.

Submitted 3/30/05:
I have some dogs with whip worms that I have been trying to get rid of and the wormer doesn’t seem to work. My vet gave me Pyrantel Pamoate to treat it. I’ve tried worming every couple of weeks and now have done it every week for five weeks and it doesn’t seem to ever knock them down. I looked on the net today and every page I looked at indicates pyrantel will not work on whips. I have read that Panacur is what I would need. I know that some stuff on the net can be wrong so I thought I would ask your opinion.

Parasites in the kennel situation can be extremely frustrating if you haven’t identified everything you are fighting against. About two months ago I visited a trainer in Missouri that was battling bloody stools in most of his kennel and none of the wormers he was using were working and so he was certain it was the food. A quick and cheap ($15) exam of the stool revealed Giardia, and after two days on antibiotics the kennel was back to normal and the dogs back to performing at the highest levels in trials.

So, my first recommendation would be to be certain that you are only dealing with whips and that there are not other factors involved in the problem. In the above situation the drainage trough for hosing out the kennels went through the dogs’ kennels and as the kennels were being cleaned the dogs were drinking the feces-contaminated waters and infecting themselves over and over. It is imperative to have a clean kennel and a “smart” way to handle feces and clean-up.

If whips are your only problem than Panacur, or fenbendazole, is going to be your best bet in treating the problem. Be sure to discuss this and the precautions with your vet. It will also be important to treat the dogs again in three months to kill worms that were not in the intestinal tract at the time of the first treatment. If you have a large number of dogs that are in and out of the kennel and to competitions, I would also discuss with your vet about coming up with a strategic plan for parasite management in the kennel to help prevent outbreaks like this in the future.

Submitted 2/25/05:
I am looking at rescuing a 60 pound, male Gordon Setter. He is two years old and I just found out the dog tested positive for heartworms. He is currently being treated. What short term and long term effects will this have on the dog? And how much extra care will the dog require?

I going to guess that he was diagnosed as part of the rescue process and not because he was actually sick (this is standard procedure in many rescue groups). If this is the case, then the good news is that most dogs, when treated before symptoms develop, make a full recovery with no lingering effects. The downside is that in the immediate future he will require some extra care to get him through the treatment process. Basically, with heartworm disease the dog has worms in the heart. Treatment is aimed at killing these worms, and post-treatment it is necessary to keep these dogs quiet and somewhat inactive to ensure these dead worms don’t suddenly break loose and cause problems. Some of these dogs will also be somewhat painful in the area where the treatment is given (two injections in the lower back), as the substance can be very irritating.

Outside of some extra TLC, medications and follow-up there is not much to heartworm treatment, and you should have a dog that will be raring to go next hunting season.

Submitted 12/23/04:
I just moved to an area where mosquitoes are endemic. I consulted my vet about heartworm disease. She said there is a window of four months for the dogs to get infected so it would be pointless to draw blood in order to confirm infection. Then, she told me that there is no vaccine for this disease like there is for many others and that all we can do is to take a preventative action, meaning medicating my dogs with pills for as long as I live here. Would appreciate a second opinion.

Heartworm disease is a parasite that is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes, just like the name implies, worms in the heart. This is a miserable disease of dogs, which can cause numerous problems in the dog, as well as death. As the disease is dependent on the mosquito for transmission the “heartworm” season varies across the country, though it gets closer to being year-round the further south you get. Many practices are going with year-round preventative to ensure that the dogs in their practice are not susceptible at any time of the year.

It does take about 4-6 months from the point of infection for a dog to have a positive test; however, if a dog has lived in heartworm country during its life, I prefer to test them prior to starting preventative, as some dogs will have a severe reaction to the medication if they already are infected.

As far as preventative measures, there is no vaccine for this type of parasite like there is for the viruses and bacteria we currently vaccinate our dogs against. Up until a few months ago there was a shot that could be administered that provided up to 6 months of protection; though, it is currently off the market pending further testing. This leaves us with the once-a-month options, which are typically in a flavored-pill form.

Heartworm disease is a very serious disease and one that definitely needs to be prevented against according to the area in which you live, which your veterinarian will be able to coordinate.

Submitted 1/26/05:
Is it possible for Lymes Disease to ruin a dog’s ability to scent birds and point? My nine-year-old Brittany female contracted Lymes last November. She had been vaccinated, but got it anyway. She responded almost immediately to the doxycycline, but for the first month she could not point a bird to save her life and she is the BEST bird dog I have had in almost 30 years of hunting. At the end of the first course of antibiotics, the pointing came back. She relapsed with symptoms every two months, but the scenting was not affected. Over the summer she developed a hotspot on her pelvic area and had to have a large cyst removed. Since that surgery she has not had a relapse. I got a puppy over the summer so that I could allow the older dog to rest and not have to work so hard. Some days she can hunt for an hour, some days she can go almost all day. New years day we were out and the scenting was gone again. She is having a lot of trouble pointing and has to be almost on top of the bird to lock up. Consequently she is bumping birds like crazy again and I am mainly hunting the puppy now. Can Lymes cause neurological problems resulting in either decreased scenting ability or perhaps her brain is not telling her to freeze when she smells a bird? Also, is there any treatment for this? My vet is stumped and says he has never heard of anything like this but he does not discount the possibility. Any help or infoyou could give me would be greatly appreciated. I don’t want to retire my hunting buddy, and she gets very excited when it’s time to go, but at this point she is not just useless as a hunting dog, she is actually detrimental because she bumps the puppy’s points as well.

I guess I would fall into the same category as your vet in that I have not had any experiences like this with Lyme dogs, though I wouldn’t discount it as the source of your problems. These tick-borne diseases can cause such a wide variety of problems that I was never amazed when a dog came up Lyme positive. My one concern would be the potential for some other problem going on in the dog that we’re trying to blame the Lyme for. Age isn’t a disease, but we certainly see diseases as dogs age, and nine falls into the geriatric category. If the dog hasn’t had a complete blood work-up recently, that would be a place I would want to start just to eliminate other possibilities.

If your vet hasn’t already I would also chat with some specialists at a local university or referral center, as they may have some experience with an odd reaction like this. The other individual that may be worth contacting is Dr. Steven Levy in Durham, CT. He is one of the most respected Lyme people in the country, in my opinion, and seems to understand the disease better than a lot of the university researchers.

Submitted 9/20/04:
I have two dogs that recently came down with what I can only describe as a cold. Both were in a kennel here in Winnipeg for about a week while I was out of town. Upon my return I noticed that they both were sneezing and had a bit of clear discharge from the nose. I had them in a NAVHDA test the next day in Bismarck, ND but pulled both of them when it became apparent to all who were there that neither dog could smell a thing. I took them to a local vet who found that they were both running temperatures of about 103-104 degrees. She suggested a course of antibiotics as a precaution against a more serious bacterial infection.

Three weeks later the dogs seem much improved. They run well, have good appetites etc. Everything seems to be fine…except the nose. They are missing birds that I know they could have nailed. My other dog who did not come down with the same thing is finding 99% of all the birds. He is a good dog but not THAT good. The two that were sick are clearly having a hard time scenting.

My question to you is, how long do you think this sort of thing can last. It has now been three weeks and while I see improvement I am still worried about possible long-term problems.

From your description of the symptoms and with the recent episode of being boarded I would be highly suspicious that your dogs were suffering from Kennel Cough (or Kennel Cough Complex). Basically a combination of a virus and bacteria (Bordatella bronchiseptica) that attack the upper respiratory tract and trachea causing the symptoms you describe. In most adult dogs it is self-limiting, though very annoying, as some dogs develop a very hacking, dry cough. Most uncomplicated cases will resolve in about 14 days and with antibiotics it is usually about 10 days. The biggest worry with Kennel Cough is the development of a secondary pneumonia, which, thankfully it doesn’t sound like you experienced.

Kennel Cough is highly contagious, and we mainly see it in dogs that have been in a multi-dog/stressful situation, such as when they are boarded, groomed, hospitalized, shown, trialed, etc. There is a very effective vaccine for Kennel Cough, and I would recommend that any dog that is going to be in one of the above situations be vaccinated against the disease and boostered annually. That being said, we will occasionally see dogs that come down with Kennel Cough even though they have been vaccinated.

My speculation into your poor scenting situations is that their bodies just haven’t had enough time to fully repair the damage that was done. With all of the inflammation and irritation that occurs in this disease, it will likely take some time for the body, and the upper respiratory tract, to repair itself. I don’t have an exact timetable, but as long as you are continuing to see improvement I would not be too concerned.

Submitted 8/13/04:
Could you please provide some information n the Fort Dodge LymeVax vaccine. What type of vaccine is it? What level of protection does it provide? Are there any known health effects from the vaccine itself. When, and with what degree of safety, can dogs be run in tick country after the second shot?

LymeVax is a bacterin vaccine against Borrelia burgdorfei the causative agent in Lyme Disease. Since moving out of northern Minnesota I have not used this particular vaccine, as I don’t feel it has been necessary in the part of the Midwest I currently live. So with that said, the information I’m going to give is from my experience with the product up until two years ago when I moved out of tick country.

In my experience the vaccine provides a good level of protection, though it was not uncommon to have a vaccinated dog come down with Lyme Disease. However, I did feel the vaccinated dogs did not get as sick as unvaccinated dogs. Bottom line was that I felt every dog in the area I practiced should be vaccinated, whether they were an outside/hunting dog or a town dog that was only out in the yard, as we saw the disease just as readily in both groups. As far as safety, my experience was that it appeared just as safe as the other vaccines (i.e. we did not see more or less vaccine reactions in LymeVax vaccinated dogs).

The when question is a little tricky, as I’m not going to give an exact date, but rather I’d say try to get the dog vaccinated as far in advance as is feasible. If you're leaving for a grouse hunting trip on Friday, don’t expect full protection if you swing by to get the booster Thursday evening, try to plan out your vaccine schedule with your veterinarian.

Again, these are just generalized answers, and things will vary with individual dogs, but in summary I found this to be a very effective and safe product when I used it. With our health and our dogs' health, there are no absolutes or guarantees, but rather I look at it as “what can I do to put the odds most in my favor for the best outcome?” Where ticks and Lyme disease are concerned, this would include keeping your dog current on the Lyme vaccine, and most importantly, using a good tick preventative like Frontline at a very regular interval.

Submitted 10/1/2007:
My puppy drags his butt on the carpet, does he have worms?

It is possible that your puppy has worms, because puppies and parasites can go hand-in-hand even at the cleanest of breeding facilities. I always recommend a fecal float be performed and the appropriate worming be administered for all puppies.

With that being said, when dogs scout (one of my technicians affectionately refers to it as butt surfing), the problem is more than likely one with the anal glands. Dogs have glands which sit just next to the rectum and empty into the rectum. Occasionally these glands will become impacted with debris and/or infected. A simple examination by your veterinarian can determine and correct this annoying problem.

Submitted 8/25/04:
My almost 5-month old PP pup was just diagnosed with Demodectic Mange. I am new to all of this but it seems localized to her head with two spots of hair loss. No other spots on her body and I have checked her all over.

My vet gave her a shot of something (he said it was a systemic something or other) last night and advised me to scrub her down with generic Mitaban three times over the next six weeks. My thought going in was Goodwinol on the affected parts of her head and let it run it’s course. Is my vet going too far with these treatments? I questioned him about the side effects of the dips and his belief is to nip it in the bud now. Just want to make sure we are doing the right thing before I subject my pup to a dip.

On a side note how worried should I be about this becoming a generalized case, how common is Demodectic Mange in pups? I am worried I will be fighting this for the rest of the dog’s life, are my fears rational?

A little background on Demodex, they are a very small mite that when looked at under a microscope looks roughly like little alligators (or cigars) and live in the hair follicles of mammals. They are present in virtually all dogs, and likely every puppy gets them from the dam. However, in most cases they live in harmony in the body and do not cause hair loss or other skin problems. The two times that we see an actual problem with these mites is when animals are young and do not likely have a fully developed immune system, and later in life, often associated with some other problem that causes immune suppression.

Now for the treatment. I hate being asked to second-guess a treatment plan, especially when I haven’t seen the dog. That being said, I usually take a conservative approach to Demodex cases, especially small and localized areas. Most localized cases (~80%) will resolve without any treatment. If I’m suspicious about a particular case, or if the owner wants some type treatment, I will usually use a follicular flushing shampoo and/or ointment like Pyoben. I have no experience with Godwinol. My thoughts are that you can always get more aggressive with treatment and save the “big guns” for only when you need them. Now, that being said, your vet might have had more localized cases that have turned in to generalized cases and wants to stop any progression before it starts. If you elect to go more conservative, I would definitely keep a very close eye on the areas, and at the first sign of them getting larger, or if there is more skin irritation, I would get more aggressive with the treatment.

As far as battling the condition for the rest of the dog’s life, I wouldn’t get too worried there, especially if the areas are as small as you describe. In fact, even if this was a generalized case in a puppy, I wouldn’t be too worried about it. As I stated, most of the time the only treatment needed is time.

Submitted 7/19/04:
I have used Frontline for the last two and a half years with my GSP. I have noticed recently this year that when I have applied the Frontline from my vet two to five days before taking her into the field, she still has ticks. The place I am taking her has tall grasses and is prone to ticks. On at least two occasions this year, after applying the Frontline 2-5 days prior to the field, upon returning home I have pulled 2-4 ticks off of her. These ticks have attached and had not yet died. Am I doing something wrong, why are these ticks attaching to the dog? Is it possible that they would die soon and fall off or is it just not working? Please note that after the application I have not washed her for at least two days before or after.

A couple of notes on Frontline: first, it is, in my opinion, the best product we have in our arsenal for tick protection. As far as the actual product, it is not a repellant, and so ticks will still get on the dog and in some cases will attach. The tick should not become engorged; the hope is that it will be killed before transmission of tick-borne organisms can occur. When applying Frontline, the most important part of the application is to make sure you are applying it to the skin and not just to the haircoat, as this will make a big difference in product effectiveness. It works by getting into the oil layer of the skin and down into the oil glands and acts as an insecticide when the fleas and ticks come into contact with it…it is not absorbed into the body or bloodstream.

One way you might be able to tell if it is working would be to look in the area your dog sleeps, as usually there will be dead ticks around or on the dog's bed, especially if you are in a high tick area. Also, it seems that when you pull ticks off of a Frontline dog they seem slower and in some cases dead but still attached. If you can find no evidence of the product working or you are finding engorged ticks, I would recommend calling either Merial (the customer service number is on the box) or speak with your veterinarian. It has been my experience that these companies want to make sure their product is working for you, and in the rare instance when it is not the right choice for your particular dog they will also tell you.

Submitted 5/15/04:
We have recently moved to a new house and the people who we bought the house from had several dogs in the yard and I am sure they had fleas. Our black lab was on a concrete floor kennel and has never had fleas that I know of, or had a problem with itching. I noticed a spot on his side that has what appears to be little bites that he has been scratching and the hair is coming out and it also appears to be scabbing, I think it is fleas. I have purchased Frontline Plus which is something we have not done in the past. Will this take care of the problem and does it sound like fleas?

It’s difficult to determine accurately from your information whether fleas are the source of the problem or not. Itchiness in dogs can have a lot of potential causes, from parasites to allergies. It is very important to have a veterinarian actually look at the dog, especially if your treatment does not work.

As far as fleas are concerned, I usually try to find the flea on the dog or evidence they have been there. If you have never seen them, they are small, brown or black, wingless, rapidly moving insects that are found moving on the skin of animals. Another identifying feature is “flea dirt,” which is actually flea excrement. Often you can find black specks that look like dirt over the rumps of a dog with fleas. When this "dirt" is placed on a white paper towel and water is added, it will turn red, as the flea feeds on your dog's blood. Sometimes if I am unable to find evidence, I will treat a dog based on a suspicion of fleas. Some dogs have flea allergies in which they become allergic to the flea saliva, and even the irritation from one flea feeding can cause the dog to become incredibly itchy and begin to show the signs you are describing.

Treating a flea infestation can be a difficult task, since they are extremely prolific, very hardy and well adapted for survival. Below is the flea’s life cycle and while you may only see the adults there are potentially many more flea stages in the environment.

Flea Diagram

As far as treating a flea infestation, it is important to treat both the dog and the home environment. For treating the dog I most commonly recommend Frontline, as I have personally had the most success with it on client dogs and my own dogs. It is waterproof after 24 hours, stays in the oil layer of the skin and is not absorbed into the body. One note on some of the over-the-counter flea and tick topical medications: they can be extremely toxic in cats and can result in seizures and death, thus it is extremely important to read all labels before applying any of the preventatives to pets. Some of the flea shampoos and collars can be effective treatments, but in my opinion, they do not work as well as using one of the topical treatments.

The other important part of treatment is treating the home environment, especially if the dog is an indoor dog. Make sure to vacuum all carpet and rugs and mop all other areas. Be sure to dispose of the vacuum bag, as the fleas could continue their cycle in the vacuum bag. Wash all of your pet's bedding, and be sure to vacuum any furniture your pet frequents, being sure to get behind any cushions. Your veterinarian also may recommend treating the indoor and outdoor environments. I often take this on a case-by-case basis, as I personally don’t like to use these treatments unless necessary because there are often several precautions that need to be taken.

Most people can stay ahead of fleas by simply using regular preventatives, but in some instances more aggressive treatment is needed when an infestation is suspected.