Darwin's Fight Against Pythiosis

Darwin is my 17 month old male white German Shepherd Puppy.  He has a wonderful mommy and daddy that love him and are blessed to have raised such an intelligent and affectionate dog.  He is facing a life threatening battle against an emerging tropical disease called pythiosis. It is caused by a fungus-like organism called Pythium insidiosum which is closely related to algae and diatoms.  The disease comes from standing in or drinking stagnant freshwater from ponds, lakes, and swamps. The organism can infect humans, horses, dogs and cats and is always fatal if left untreated.  Treatment by surgical intervention, chemotherapy and immunotherapy has worked in some cases. 

 On July 24th 2015 I noticed a large draining ulcer on the underside of his tail.  I immediately took him into my regular vet at Aloha Animal Hospital in Indian Harbor Florida. He was diagnosed with a bacterial skin infection and given an I.M. injection of convenia antibiotic.  He was scheduled for a follow up in two weeks.  

On July 31st 2015, I noticed his ulcer was slowly getting worse and I spent several days searching the internet for possible skin conditions that could produce such a large ulcer.  Eventually I found a thorough website that listed around 20 or so different conditions, and I spent several hours investigating each one.  When I looked up pythiosis, I read that dogs are infected by swimming in stangant fresh water.  For the past 5 months, I used to take Darwin to play fetch and go swimming in a local pond and I immediately began to suspect pythiosis.  The more I read about it, the more the symptoms seemed to fit and I could not find anything suggesting it was not pythiosis. I was becomming desperate and tried to prepare several slides and cytology stains but could not find anything.

On August 1 2015, I bought Darwin into VCA Animal Hospital in Palm Bay Florida.  I told the vet I suspected pythiosis and I wanted him tested for it but I do not think I was taken seriously.  The vet informed me that the secondary bacterial infection would not allow a good biopsy to be done and prescribed me an oral antibiotic, Baytril as well as a Chlorohexamine wash to be used topically.  I was told to bring him back in a week for follow up.  I decided to take matters into my own hands and found out a Gomori Methanamine Silver stain on cytology could show the disease, but the particular stain requires lots of time to develop. I found out the University of Florida Large Animal Hospital had experience treating pythiosis in horses, and decided to drive the 3 hours to Gainesvillle the next day and bring Darwin in. 

On August 3 2015, I brought Darwin into the UF Small Animal Hospital Emergency room.  I believe they were more familiar with the symptoms, and immediately ordered test.  Darwin was quickly anesthetized, and biopsies as well as tissue samples were taken from his tail lesion and a smaller one on the side.  They believed it was pythiosis, but needed to rule out other fungal infection and cancer.  The diagnostic test involves growing Pythium on a petri dish and takes 48 hours. Darwin was bandaged up and he and I drove back to Melbourne that night.

On August 5 2015, I received a call from UF indicating the cultures showed a preliminary positive ID on pythium and I needed to bring Darwin back in the next day for surgical evaluation.  

On August 6 2015, Darwin, Marianna (his mommy) and I drove up back up to Gainesville and met with a team of surgeons as well as an integrative medicine specialist.  Darwin was once again anesthetized and had a CT scan to check for GI pythiosis and help evaluate the different surgical options.  After consulting, the surgeons recommended a high tail amputation to remove the infected tissue from his tail and excision of the lesion from his side. Darwin also began his first treatment with a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and was scheduled for surgery the following day.  He will remain in Gainesville and receive follow up care as well as more hyperbaric oxygen treatments until Monday when I can go pick him up.

As of August 7th, the total cost of his treatments has come to $5,300 and he will need follow up medication and tests for the next year.  I set the campaign at 8,000$ but I will be updating it as needed.  I will also be posting invoices and bills below.  Any amount you can donate will help him,  He is a wonderful dog and the most important thing in my life.  He has a great family and lots of friends who care for him and are hoping for the best.   

August 11th update: Darwin's surgery went well and we are awaiting the results of biopsies to see how much infected tissue if any remains.  While at UF, he underwent hyperbaric oxygen therapy and was very anxious to get home and went on a hunger strike.  Since being home he has been happy and started to eat a little bit.  He started his initial treatments and has to take over 12 pills a day to start with.  Darwin also got to meet with the Florida Today Newspaper to help raise awareness of pythiosis and hopefully prevent any more sick puppies. 


In the beginning of October, Darwin started having some respiratory symptoms that sounded like he was trying to throw up or clear his throat. At first it was once a day then over a week it kept getting more frequent. At that point I took him to my local vet so they could have a look, hoping it was just an infection, but I was worried since he was not coughing. They took Xrays and sent then to UF for a consult. Over the next week his breathing got worse, sounding very raspy and wheezy, especially in the mornings when he first woke up. UF agreed to see him and offered to do a CT scan to get a better idea what was going on since the xrays were inconclusive.

I drove Darwin up to Gainesville on October 28th, and they performed a CT scan which showed abnormal tissue surrounding his trachea and bronchial tube. They decided to do an endoscope while he was still under to try and get a visual clue as to what it was. They were able to biopsy some small plaques that were on the inside of his trachea and I took Darwin back home. We were hoping it was not pythiosis, but were expecting the worst, so we changed his medications. He started receiving prednisone to help with the swelling, an increase in his pesticide dose and the antibiotics azithromycin and minocycline.

He quickly got better and his breathing symptoms went away, but the PCR DNA test came back positive. Darwin is the only known dog to have pythiosis in his trachea although there are a few cases of it being found in the lung or in the esophagus. None of those animals survived.

We took another xray on 11/10/15 to see if there was any progress and there seemed to be a slight improvement, although overall there was no major change. Over the next week his breathing symptoms started to come back and we have been very worried.

Since then, we have decided to be more aggressive with his treatments. We found a hyperbaric oxygen therapy location in Melbourne, and Darwin has been going every day this week. UF is also trying to obtain some new medications that might cure his disease although they have never been tested. We are also trying to make a special vaccine for him based on his strain of the disease.

We were really confident he was getting better and we have been really sad about the new infection. He was most likely infected at the same time in July, but the medications were keeping the infection controlled. I decided to do an interview with FOX news Orlando to try and raise some awareness about this disease so no other dog owners have to go through this.

We are planning on doing one more oxygen treatment tomorrow and then some chest Xrays next week to see if there were any major changes. Darwin's breathing is not back to normal yet but it does not seem to be getting worse and is not as bad as it was a month ago. He is very happy and still loves to play and eat and is a very strong fighter. He still has a lot of love to give and lots of love to get and we are going to do everything we can to help him survive.

Please see below for photographs and updates. Invoices covering the cost of treatment so far are at the bottom. 

Darwin playing fetch one week before finding the ulcer under his tail.

Darwin and his mommy wait for the CT results on 8/6/15

Picking up Darwin on 8/10/15 after surgery and his first set of hyperbaric oxygen treatments

Post Surgery treatment medications not including immunotherapy vaccine

Darwin recovering

Darwin in the hyperbaric chamber

Bill from VCA Animal Hospital

Bill from August 3, initial visit to UF

Bill from August 10th 

Bills from local Vet:

Darwin's Case Summary


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Efram Goldberg 
Melbourne, FL
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