Few things in life bring a pooch greater joy than digging holes in the ground. Dogs should be free to explore the great outdoors, but it’s worth wondering what contaminants lurk in that soil.
If your pup picks the wrong patch of grass, they might come down with a case of histoplasmosis. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the disease and what you can do about it.
What is histoplasmosis?
Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection that’s caused by Histoplasma capsulatum. This fungus dwells in warm, damp soil contaminated with bird feces. H capsulatum is concentrated in some locations more so than others, especially grassy fields where birds like to gather and build their nests. The fungus can be transmitted to dogs when they inhale or eat contaminated dirt.
H capsulatum becomes localized in specific organs depending on how the dog contracted it. If the dog inhaled dirt particles, infection will occur in the lungs. The digestion of contaminated soil will naturally lead to an infected intestinal tract. Histoplasmosis can also spread to the rest of the body, resulting in what vets call a “systemic infection.” In this case, infection may reside in the liver, spleen, eyes, lymph nodes, nervous system or skin.
Why this fungus is dangerous
One of the biggest dangers of this infection is that histoplasmosis is very hard to diagnose. The symptoms of histoplasmosis vary and look similar to countless other diseases. Common signs include fever, lethargy, painful joints and a lack of appetite. Since these overlap with other illnesses, a vet must complete a full range of blood tests before they can rule out causes other than histoplasmosis. Even then, tests may come back as false negatives. Cell examination (cytology or histopathology) is the only sure-fire way to come up with an accurate diagnosis.
The symptoms of the infection themselves also have the potential to become life-threatening. Infection of the digestive tract causes persistent vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to severe dehydration. A refusal to eat due to appetite loss not only makes dogs underweight but also means they’re suffering from malnutrition. Histoplasmosis in the lungs is characterized by a recurring cough and difficulty breathing—symptoms that may necessitate immediate hospitalization.
Even worse, histoplasmosis is more difficult to treat if it becomes a systemic infection. The longer that H capsulatum is allowed to thrive in a dog’s body, the harder it is to keep the infection under control. Dogs in the advanced stages of histoplasmosis may not respond to treatment and have a significantly reduced lifespan. Early detection is vital in order to save your pet from the H capsulatum infection.
Treatment options for dogs
The good news is that several treatment options are available for histoplasmosis once it’s identified. Which course of action your veterinarian prescribes will depend on how far the disease has progressed and your dog’s medical history. In most cases, the vet will ask you to administer anti-fungal medication at home. Scientific breakthroughs have led to histoplasmosis treatments that are more successful and create less side effects than medications in years past.
A typical case of histoplasmosis takes about six months to get under control. During this time, your dog will need lots of rest in order to speed up the recovery process. Limit their time spent outdoors, especially if you or the vet suspects high concentrations of H capsulatum in the area. Your dog will need to visit the vet’s office at regular intervals for blood tests and X-rays to make sure they’re recovering smoothly and to detect a resurgence of the infection.
Dogs with weaker immune systems or advanced histoplasmosis might need to be hospitalized until their condition improves. Infection of the intestinal tract may also require hospitalization due to malabsorption of nutrients. Vets may use intravenous fluids to keep the dog hydrated and deliver the nutrients they’re missing from their diet.
Determining a prognosis
Your pup’s prognosis might vary depending on their overall health and how long they’ve been living with histoplasmosis. Dogs who are generally in good health have a much better chance of recovering from histoplasmosis than those with immune disorders. This is why it’s so important to boost your dog’s immune system through regular exercise, a balanced diet and immunity supplements every day. You never know what might happen, so you should do everything in your power now to prevent infections from occurring later down the road.
Histoplasmosis isn’t the end of the world. Veterinarians know how to diagnose this fungal infection and will customize a treatment plan for your pup. The best thing you can do is contact your vet the second you notice symptoms. When caught early enough, the infection should clear and leave your dog happy and healthy!