Surf's Story

From Surf's first cough until I had to let her go was only about 5 weeks. For the first 3 weeks she only had a cough. It really seemed like kennel cough. It was the characteristic cough-cough-cough-cough-long gag that I had read about kennel cough. It wasn't too much of a bother. She didn't cough at night, and at it's peak it was only a couple times an hour. I didn't want to infect other dogs by taking her to the vet as she seemed otherwise healthy. And I had just lost her older brother to mast cell cancer a few weeks earlier. I couldn't let myself think my second dog could be sick too.

By week 3 when she started coughing up blood I was immediately worried and regretful that I hadn't brought her to the vet's earlier. The vet checked her over. She had a fever, but her lung sounds were normal. She coughed in the exam room, so he took a swab of the back of her throat to make a slide of it and check for anything definitive. He found lots of bacteria and cells indicating there was an inflammation and mucous. He mentioned blastomycosis then but said he didn't see any on the slide. Her throat seemed sensitive to pressure, so he thought it could be an inflammation of her trachea, similar to kennel couch, and prescribed amoxicillin for 10 days.

Two days later she started turning down her food. Then she began to drag her back right paw and leg a little. I thought she had pulled her leg when she was trying to get off my bed, but it progressed to her right front paw as well. Then one night she just didn't want to get up anymore. I had to start carrying her outside to pee because her legs just couldn't navigate the stairs. I went back to the vet the next day, a week after her last visit. He couldn't believe how fast she had declined. She still had a fever. He turned her right paws over one at a time to test her neurological responses. She couldn't turn either of them back over to their proper position. He listened to her heart and chest for a long time, and then said he wanted to keep her to run full x-rays and blood work. When he called a couple hours later, he said she was anaemic, but worse yet, her lungs were completely full and that it was probably lung cancer. She coughed up a tablespoon of goop that they sampled and sent to a pathologist. I was absolutely devastated and wasn't sure I was even going to bring her home from the vet's. She was able to get up on her own and shuffle towards me, so I took her home. He gave her a shot of Baytril and I brought her home. She was not doing well.

For the next few days I stayed home from work and spent most of my time lying with her. Her breathing was fast and shallow. She would still drink on her own and pee when I carried her outside, but she was very still inside, only getting up to walk a few times a day. Sometimes she was too weak to lift her head. We tried so hard to get her to eat something, but she just wasn't interested in any food. She wasn't coughing much anymore. Two days after the night I took her back home from the vet, he called to say the pathologist found no cancer cells in the sample, or blastomycosis. Just lots of bacteria and dead cells because the sample might have been sitting in her upper respiratory system and wasn't fresh. I thought we had a chance then. Surf had perked up a bit that day and ate a bit on her own. We put her on a heavy dose of Baytril (antibiotic). The vet wanted to do a lung wash or a lung biopsy to get a good idea of exactly what it was, in case it was blastomycosis, although he said he knew of a dog with similar symptoms who did have blasto. They sent him down to the University of Guelph for treatment, but $5000 in treatments later, he was just too sick and had to be put down. Surf was so weak by then, I knew she couldn't handle the sedation for a lung wash. Two days later she could no longer walk, pee, eat, and she didn't even show any joy when company showed up. My Dad and sister came to visit us and she didn't even lift her head. Over the last 24 hours her temperature had fluctuated from being really really hot to much colder. Her stomach was distended. I really think her organs were all shutting down. I had to let her go. Absolutely heartbreaking...

I had heard of Blastomycosis being rather rampant in the Kenora, Ontario area. I had lived there for a summer and over the year following my work placement there, I started hearing new stories of dogs dying of it, and people contracting it from working near damp soil, like in their crawl space under a house or cottage, or under a porch. I had NO CLUE how widespread Blastomycosis is! Most information links about it report that it is mostly just in the Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Ohio River systems. However, I have since heard of it being here in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, as well as Chapleau and Timmins. I've read of it on the shores of Georgian Bay. I've also heard of it in New Brunswick. This fall (2005), it is rampant in Wisconsin.

The emergency vet on call who put Surf to sleep said she has seen several cases of Blastomycosis around here in the country, especially with hunting dogs and retrievers. She can't understand why our local Algoma Health Unit says nothing about it.

I've learned that Blastomycosis can only be found in a very fresh sampling, which is why none of Surf's swabs or phlegm slides showed it. She was always one to play at the shoreline when we took her for a swim. She dig in the muck for hours if I let her. I'm sure that is how she probably got it. If only I knew which lake...