Seek immediate treatment for swamp cancer

Dear Vets:

My dog Nina is a chocolate lab that loves to swim.

A friend of mine told me, that I shouldn’t let her swim in the canals because she could catch swamp cancer. Is this true?

What is swamp cancer and do I need to keep her out of the water?

Swamp cancer is the lay term for a disease called pythiosis.

Pythium is a water parasite found only in tropical and subtropical climates like the Cayman Islands. The parasite is a member of a class of organisms that are most similar to algae.

They are microscopic organisms that are impossible to see with the naked eye.

The infective stage of pythium is called a spore and is released in stagnant or swampy water. An unassuming dog victim can catch the spore by either standing or drinking contaminated water.

The spore can enter the skin through cuts or it can be ingested into the digestive tract.

The infection can be presented in one of two different forms.

If the spores enter through the skin, it causes a skin pythiosis.

If the spores enter in the stomach and/or intestines it forms a gastrointestinal pythiosis.

Dogs with the skin or cutaneous form of pythiosis develop non-healing wounds, draining tracts and ulcerative nodules most commonly on the face, tail, feet and rump.

The wounds are generally very itchy and usually develop secondary bacterial infections.

Dogs with the gastrointestinal form of pythiosis, usually present with non-specific signs such as anorexia, vomiting, diarrhoea and fever.

This form is more common and can be very deadly since the pythium forms tumours called granulomas in the stomach and intestines.

This can cause a complete blockage of the intestines and therefore the dog will not be able to keep any food down.

The dog will subsequently lose a lot of weight, and usually dies without radical and immediate treatment.

Diagnosis of both forms can be achieved by a specialized blood test or through microscopic examination of the organism on skin sections or intestinal biopsies.

Medical treatment has been very frustrating with only approximately 25 per cent of the cases responding.

Radical surgery is usually required for dogs with either the skin or gastrointestinal form of the disease.

Pythiosis or swamp cancer is not a very good disease to contract as the cure rate is very low.

In order to keep your dog healthy and safe, prohibit your dog from swimming or playing in stagnant or swampy water.

Swimming is great exercise, but is best done in free flowing water like the ocean, and certainly there is no short supply of that here in the beautiful Cayman Islands!