We feared cancer and worried that the entire leg would be amputated. Was he lucky it wasn’t cancer? I’m not sure, because his ultimate diagnosis was Blastomycosis, relatively rare condition caused by the organism Blastomyces dermatitidis, which is commonly found in decaying wood and soil. Spores are released into the air and can be inhaled by dogs or people. Once the spores enter the lungs, they turn into large, thick-walled broad-based budding yeast that multiplies and affects the lungs and skin. Other organs can also be affected; infection in the eyes can cause rapid and permanent blindness. Blastomycosis is deadly if not treated.
The treatment of choice is anti-fungal medication. There is no test to determine whether he was cured, so I have kept a close vigil for five years. Even as his muzzle grayed a bit and he took on the dignified air of an older dog, he has been remarkably healthy. Then one day I noticed swelling in his leg and a sore that did not heal. My nightmare has returned: Alex has Blasto again. There’s no way of knowing whether he was completely cured five years ago, or whether the pathogen has been lurking all along.
I have no idea where he might have encountered Blastomyces dermatitidis. Was it in my own yard? On a hike in the woods? On one of my trips to Florida? The fungus has been detected throughout North America with the highest prevalence near water, such as in the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, and Tennessee River basins. However, it is also in the central and southeastern United States, Canada, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Africa.
We went further into the Ozark Mountains and Alex loved our hikes. He was, and still is, my best-behaved dog, learning soon after his rescue to walk safely off leash. He was in heaven on the trails – exploring free, with no restraints. When we came across a small herd of deer, he took a step forward, looking at them and then at me: “Please let me chase them, Mom!” He reluctantly obeyed my command to stop. Good boy! We had the time of our lives, but could this be where he contracted Blasto?
A month later, my sister visited from Florida, bringing some of our mother’s ashes. We planned a trip to Waterloo, Alabama, which has a pretty little graveyard overlooking the Tennessee River. Mama always told us she wanted to be buried in north Alabama so her ghost could fly over the graveyard and river to haunt the townspeople. Of course, Alex came along on a wonderfully rainy, gloomy day. We sprinkled some of Mama’s ashes over her own mother’s grave and then into the river. Afterward, we walked along the riverbank while Alex happily splashed in the water. We were there when I first noticed the swollen black, blue and purple toe. I thought he had stubbed it on a rock in the river during his goofy play.
I hope and pray we can make it through this again. If not, my heart will break.
To learn more about blastomycosis, click here.