Blastomycosis is either a word you’ve never heard, or a word you never want to hear again. Commonly called “Blasto,” it’s a soil fungus that is found intermittently throughout the eastern half of North America. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of Blasto cases this year.
Even though it exists in soils throughout our region, that doesn’t mean your dog will catch it. The science of Blasto is not well understood. It’s unknown exactly how and when the spores will be ingested but some patterns seem to exist.
The most common ways we’ve heard of dogs contracting Blasto are from “soil disturbance” ranging from gardening to home building. Dogs also seem more likely to catch it around damp sandy soils where the water level is either going up or down. It’s often linked to beaver flowages because water levels in these systems are often changing. However, we’ve known several dogs that have gotten Blasto from the shores of the Mississippi River and various lakes.
So if your dog hunts or otherwise likes to sniff around the water’s edge – and why wouldn’t it, that’s where all the critters travel and hang out – it may get exposed to Blastomycosis.
If this is news to you, please don’t panic. We know that thousands of dogs spend their lifetime in the woods around here and never catch Blasto.
What you need to do is become familiar with the symptoms and get to the vet right away if your dog shows them. The major telltale symptom is a “deep honking” cough. Other symptoms include severely inflamed eyes or non-healing sores on the body, limping, and lethargy.
Blastomycosis can display many symptoms so it’s important for owners to be vigilant for changes in their pet’s health. Even simple loss of appetite or unexplained lethargy is usually a sign of something significant.
With the extended drought we had this summer the water levels definitely receded, exposing mushy riparian soils that can be blastomycosis sources. And now we’ve had quite a stretch of fall rains causing new saturation and water level change.
The lingering question: Should you avoid hunting any certain areas, especially this fall? The answer will depend on the owner, but overall the risk of contracting Blasto is small.
You might consider avoiding any known Blasto sources, but otherwise, the occurrence is so rare, it would be impossible to decide what areas are “riskier” than others.
If you’d like to ease your mind, a solid option would be to run a Blasto test at the end of the hunting season just to get ahead of anything that could have taken hold but not yet exhibited symptoms.
Blastomycosis is a debilitating, sometimes fatal threat in our area. The sooner a patient gets diagnosed, the more successful the treatment is likely to be.