Q: My German Shepherd was just diagnosed with blastomycosis, The vet is concerned and says he's not optimistic. Of course, we're very concerned. Any advice?
- S.H., Louisville, KY
A: Blastomycosis is a fungal infection caused by the organism blastomyces dermatitidis, which is commonly found in decaying wood and soil. When ground is stirred up by construction, dogs are more likely to be exposed to the spores which cause this illness. People can get this disease, too, but our noses aren't typically to the ground, so we aren't as prone. Studies show the most commonly affected dogs are larger, and live or play near fresh water.
For whatever reason, generally younger dogs get blastomycosis, though it can infect dogs of any age.
The disease can cause damage to the lungs, eyes, skin and bones. Without treatment, Dr. Al Legendre says, a dog will die.
"The secret is to diagnose and treat early before serious disease, particularly lung involvement, results," says Legendre, a professor in the department of small animal clinical sciences at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Knoxville. "We can lose 10 to 12 percent in the first week. Over half the dogs will be cured after the first course of treatment; most others after a second course."
The problem for many owners isn't the eventual effectiveness of Itraconazole (Sporanox), but the cost of the drug. Legendre says the cost for a German Shepherd-sized dog could exceed $25 a day, and treatment might last from 60 to 90 days or more.