Cryptococcus in Dogs
Recently there has been a story in the local media (CHEK news) getting attention regarding Cryptococcus gattii, a fungus that can cause disease in animals & people. As it is very emotional to lose a loved one, the disease agent has become big news and people become alarmed (especially with the rapid sharing of information on social media). We would like pet owners (and everyone) to be aware of the facts and also to be able to put it into perspective.
This fungus has been in our environment, on the mid-Island East Coast, for about 20 years. It is in soil, trees & air. If you live here, you are exposed to it. Indoors and outdoors. There is no "outbreak". It has been around us for a long while. (Just as many other fungi and bacteria share our environment.)
MOST individuals will NOT develop any problems due to exposure.
But a small percentage will. Those unfortunately affected (various species, including our pets and also humans) can develop respiratory signs (cough, sneeze, etc), or sometimes develop pockets of infection under the skin, or show neurological symptoms (staggering, behavior changes, vision changes, seizures).
There is a blood test that can help in the diagnosis when an individual is showing suspicious symptoms.
Treatment is expensive and success depends on the severity of disease.
Again, it is not new. It's all around us, and it affects an unlucky few. In humans, that few are those with immune suppression or pre-existing disease. In dogs, that doesn't appear to be the case (but more research is needed to determine why certain strong young individuals can become affected). - Bellevue Veterinary Hospital (Parksville)
As with humans, dogs can get fungal infections. They are fairly common and can be caused by several different types of fungi–one being a yeast-like fungus called cryptococcus. This fungus, which is often inhaled through the nose, is present in soil and often spread by birds, especially pigeons.
Infected dogs often have vague and nonspecific symptoms, such as weight loss and lethargy. In some cases, a dog may exhibit neurological signs, such as a head tilt or incoordination. You may also see sneezing and discharge from your pet’s nose and eyes. Other possible symptoms include lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and swollen lymph nodes.
In order to identify if this yeast-like fungus is the cause of your dog’s symptoms, your veterinarian may recommend the following:
- A complete physical exam and medical history
- Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
- Serologic tests to identify if your pet has been exposed to any infectious diseases
- A complete blood count to rule out certain blood-related conditions
- Electrolyte tests to ensure your pet isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
- Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infection and other disease
- Radiographs (x-rays)
- A culture of eye/nose discharge
- A biopsy of nasal tissue to identify causative organisms
If your veterinarian determines your pooch has this fungal infection, he or she may suggest the following based on your dog’s individual case:
- Inpatient supportive care, if your dog is showing neurological signs
- Surgery, if nodules in the nose are present as a result of the infection
- Oral antifungal medication
If an oral antifungal medication is prescribed, your veterinarian may also recommend blood tests to monitor your dog’s organ function and follow-up tests to identify response to treatment.
Keeping your dog away from areas with large volumes of pigeon droppings is one way to avoid cryptococcosis. If you suspect your dog is showing symptoms of this condition, contact your veterinarian right away!
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.