When three small children were surprised with a puppy for Christmas a few years ago, their joy was marked by giggles of pure delight. A puppy! A puppy! A puppy! The family named the wiggly black lab Charles, and the bonding began. The children were not that much older than the pup, so they were growing up together as a little pack of love and cuddles.

During Charles’ fourth year, however, the young dog became quite ill. He had a gagging cough, and it was getting more difficult for him to breathe. His veterinarian treated him with medication, but he lost 15 to 20 pounds and was not improving at all. The family was afraid for him and decided to visit Dr. Michelle McDonough of Greendale Village Vet for a second opinion.

“It was tough to see him like that,” McDonough said, noting Charles was having significant respiratory difficulties during the exam. She immediately ordered blood work and x-rays.

“What we found was he had a large amount of fluid around his lungs.” McDonough tested Charles for blastomycosis, and the result was positive.

Blastomycosis is a disease that occurs when a pet disturbs soil, or decomposing organic matter like leaves, that are contaminated with the fungus. The pet inhales the spores, which then start damaging and spreading in the lungs. The fungus has been found only in certain areas of North America. Wisconsin is not a place with particularly high incident rates of the fungus being found, and it is much more common in areas with wet ground. It is not just present here but also in some areas of nearby Michigan and the Great Lakes.

“Prevention is quite difficult,” said McDonough. “There are no vaccines, and when it is present, it is in areas where we go boating, camping, hiking, swimming or even berry picking in the woods. Rotting organic matter, such as leaves and wood, are common in many of those places. We can try to keep our pets from exploring areas that look like they could be contaminated, but that’s about the best we can do. It is hard, because pets always have their nose to the ground.”

Dogs are more prone to getting the disease, she explained, but it also occurs in cats and humans. In a study published by Medical Mycology in 2014, Wisconsin veterinarians who participated in a survey reported 36 percent of their canine cases of blastomycosis died.

“It’s very serious,” said McDonough. “Charles’ harsh cough and weight loss were textbook symptoms. The disease can also cause anorexia, fevers, eye disease, lameness, skin lesions and more. The change to his lungs were not classic for blastomycosis, though, because he had fluid around his lungs. One of the first treatments he needed was draining fluid from inside his chest.”

Over the course of several visits, McDonough repeated the process of draining fluid from around his lungs, and at one visit, she drained almost 2 liters of fluid. It was a scary time for the family, who were fearing they might lose their sweet pup. Charles’ symptoms improved after each draining, and over the course of five months, the antifungal medication he was taking finally cleared the infection.

When Charles visited with McDonough for his last recheck, he was accompanied by his pack of children, who were playful and giggling with their beloved dog. “That was such a rewarding experience,” said McDonough. “To know he overcame a serious illness and then see him energetic with the kids again just made my day.”

For information or to make an appointment, call Greendale Village Vet at 414-421-1800, or visit https://greendalevillagevet.com/.