Friday, August 10, 2012

When my dog got pythiosis

in memory of my dog, Greta

In hope to create awareness:
a real story, and a bit of a runt.

I can't stop thinking that:
IF the vets were more aware, 
IF she would have been diagnosed on time, 
IF she would have been treated for the right disease, 
IF, IF, IF... she would probably be still here.

I will start somewhere closer to the end:

what's pythiosis?

I'm not a scientist, nor a doctor: therefore I never heard about PYTHIOSIS (until few years ago).

Pythiosis is something that most vets don't know anything about.
The ones that heard about it often aren't taking it 
into consideration because "it's a rare disease".
Well, it's not that rare anymore.
And can be fatal not only to animals, but to humans as well.

Pythiosis results from the infection with the fungal-like organism Pythium insidiosumand occurs in Equines, Canines, Felines, Bovines, Humans and other species.   This disease is also known as Phycomycosis, “Florida Horse Leeches”, Swamp Cancer and other colloquial names.  The disease is worldwide in distribution and is especially prevalent in tropical regions. Recently, numerous cases have been reported in theMidwest and Northeast United States and as far north as Wisconsin and Washington State.

Symptoms include loss of appetite, vomit, diarrhea.

To have an early diagnosis there is a rather inexpensive test (ELISA) (it was about 40$ at the time).

This is a brief introduction from
If you want to know more, 
for accurate information, 
statistics, technical papers, go to: 

11/18/2006: the first day

One day, we decided that we could finally have a dog.
We adopted her from the city's shelter and named her Greta.
She was really skinny, about 1 year old, and incredibly sweet.

The day after at the vet clinic, they told us that she had to gain weight, but she was in good shape.
Small, but frequent portions would have done the trick.

two days later, she started to be sick

Frequent vomiting and diarrhea. 
These symptoms can be normal for a dog that has just change life style and diet.
But she would refuse any food, water, anything.
Another stop at the vet clinic and (a different vet) found a lump in her belly.
Although she was really skinny she advised to give her surgery to find out what that lump was about.
She had major surgery, while they removed a portion of her intestines. 
I've got a call few days later from the surgeon that said: "The good news is: it's not cancer. The bad news is: it could be anything else, and we don't know what it is"
They couldn't figure out what this lump was about, and started giving her antibiotics.

In the six months I had Greta, she has been misdiagnosed and treated with different kind of antibiotics for a number of diseases, including:
- gastroenteritis 
- colitis 
- Crohn sindrom
- pancreatitis 
For a total of 4 vets, expensive meds, ultrasounds, x-rays, biopsies and follow appointments and check-ups about every 10 days.

The diarrhea was still there, very frequent and bloody, and the vomiting too.
(and I spent most of these nights on the couch because she had to go out every 20-30 minutes or so)  

PavLab & Bob Glass

One day one of the vets at the clinic told me that she ran out of options, and the last thing was to take her to a veterinarian oncologist , because at this point (she said) maybe it could be cancer, after all.
The oncologist (which I didn't like as a human being, but was indeed way more capable than all of  the other vets) told me just by reading all what she's been through, that she most likely had gastro-intestinal pythiosis.
And he told me to leave her there to be euthanized because there was nothing to do.
Which of course, I didn't do.

Instead, I took Greta home (driving slowly while crying all my tears) and sat down at my computer.

I found  Dr. Mendoza's email address at Michigan State University, and he responded few hours later giving me the contact to Bob Glass at PavLab in Texas which is a Lab completely dedicated and focused on research about pythiosis.
Dr. Bob Glass is caring, dedicated and incredibly available.
The dream is to find a cure or even better, a vaccine for this awful disease.
Bob Glass & Rever, a pythiosis surviver that was given only few months of life

She got tested: and the result was positive.
He sent a serum to my vet to start Greta on an immunotherapeutic treatment  consisting on three shots over three weeks. 

Greta completed the first round of three shots, and was doing better. 

This treatment has been given high rate results treating horses, 
while for dogs is still and undergoing battle with a 35% success rate 
(mostly due to the lack of awareness by veterinarians
with lots of misdiagnosed cases  
which lead to a chronic stage)

5/13/2007: the last day

A couple of weeks later, one night, she started to get worse. She could barely breathe, she was clearly in pain, and she had to go out with bloody vomit every few minutes.
I left a voice mail on Bob Glass' phone and he called me back around 6 am: after explaining him all the symptoms, he figured that all of her organs were shutting down. 
I could only try to let her not be in too much pain.
An hour later she was on my lap, with a needle in her leg and I was saying good-bye forever.
She was about 1 year and 1/2 old. Too young to die.

Check these links:

PavLab technical papers: all you need to know about phytiosis (and wish you'll never need to face). 
Facebook Group where dog, cat and horse owners are sharing informations and tips (and hope). dedicated to Rusti, another black beautiful dog that lost his battle to pythiosis. 

Below you can download or print a flyer that Janie wrote, 
which summarize early symptoms and how to proceed.
She is one of the most active people on the Facebook group: she lost three of her dogs to pythiosis.
Please print or forward this flyer to your vets, dog parks, agility classes... anywhere where a word of mouth would be helpful to create more awareness: that's the only thing that will help save the life of more beloved dogs.

Pythiosis Insidiosum - FLYER

xox, d.
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