Pythiosis Is Usually Fatal in Dogs, But This Pup’s Parents Refuse to Give Up

Posted by Amber King
All images via Wilson HandsomePants

Pythiosis, also known as Water Mold Infection and swamp cancer, is fatal for dogs nearly 90% of the time, but those were good enough odds for these rescue dog owners.

Wilson, a mixed-breed pup, was in his teenaged doggy years, lacked training, and had a whole host of personality quirks. He wound up at a shelter through no fault of his own, and his search for a new forever family wasn’t going well. But that was before his picture caught the attention of Emily Steelman.

Hey @bluegrasshoppercreations ! I'm so excited for your #bgcrepsearch ! 😁 My name is Wilson HandsomePants and I'm a goofy Texas mutt with a big heart! My hobbies include digging in the mud and nibbling on the ears of people I've just met 🙈 My mom says I'd be a great brand rep because I'm so stinking cute, because I love to get treats — I mean, take pictures — and because my mom loves to support small businesses. She's actually a little addicted to Etsy but that'll be our little secret! 🙊 I especially love your red paisley and navy gingham bandanas, and I think I would look like quite the dapper doggie showing them off for you. Please feel free to paw through my account and see all of my silly faces and sultry poses 🙃 • #wilsonwags #dogsofinstagram #bluegrasshoppercreations #muttsofinstagram #handsomebuggersclub

A post shared by Wilson HandsomePants (@wagswithwilson) on

Emily and her fiancé had recently decided that they needed a dog to complete their small family. They discussed it, and they were looking for a medium-sized pooch that was either a young puppy or an adult that would be easy to train. They started their search, but the dog they fell in love with had none of those expected qualities. Emily told iHeartDogs:

“He was the opposite of everything we were looking for in a dog. He was big, already 50 pounds at nine months old. He was neither puppy nor adult, neither trained nor housebroke, and didn’t know his own name.”

But Wilson’s goofy grin was irresistible. After talking with shelter staff members, consulting their dog trainer friend, and considering their options, the engaged couple knew they couldn’t say no. Wilson went home with them a week later, and a powerful friendship was formed.

Adopting the energetic, untrained dog came with challenges. But the couple was diligent about training, and the pooch soon made good progress. The more days they spent together, the more Emily loved her happy-go-lucky dog. But it soon became obvious that something wasn’t right.

Wilson had his quirks, but his appetite started to change. Emily explained;

“He often wouldn’t eat in the morning, causing a buildup of bile in his stomach that led to vomiting. His stomach was also very sensitive, which we often found out the hard way after introducing new foods such as antlers and peanut butter. Additionally, he seemed very prone to illness.”

Emily scheduled a vet visit but was told Wilson was just a “weird dog” who was a particularly picky eater. Emily wasn’t convinced, and Wilson’s appetite soon disappeared altogether. He started losing weight, and his condition worsened. So Emily took him to a different vet to check out his digestive tract.

This time, her concerns weren’t ignored. The doctor referred her to a specialist who was committed to getting to the bottom of Wilson’s tummy troubles. After months of appetite issues and weight loss, extensive tests, blood work, x-rays, and exploratory surgery, they were finally given a definitive diagnosis. It was pythiosis, and the news wasn’t good.

According to PetMD, pythiosis (Pythium insidiosum) is a fungal infection caused by a parasitic spore that thrives in ponds, wetlands, swamps, and stagnant water. Cases of the disease have shown up in the swamps of Florida and Louisiana, and even as far as in ponds and standing water in Texas, Oklahoma, and as far as Central California. The parasite enters the body through the nose, throat, or skin and can settle in the lungs, brain, sinuses, skin, or in Wilson’s case, gastrointestinal tract.

A portion of Wilson’s intestine was inflamed and was preventing food from passing through. He likely contracted the tropical disease from any of the mud puddles or ponds he loved to splash through. When the doctors explained Wilson’s slim chance of survival, Emily and her fiancé were devastated.

They were shocked and scared, but they didn’t let those emotions get in their way. They decided that whatever happened, they would give their rescue dog the best chance at life. They started giving him anti-fungal medications, and Emily reached out to a holistic vet for treatment options. With a stroke of luck, Wilson was enrolled in a new study on pythiosis. He was given a feeding tube and received immunotherapy drugs.

Well friends, yesterday marked 3 months since Wilson's définitive pythium/pythiosis diagnosis. At that time Wilson was given about a month or two to live, which means that we've been so fortunate to have an entire month of bonus time with him, and we continue to do everything in our power to extend that time for weeks or months or years. I said I would write a post about where we stand now and just how much we don't know about how Wilson is doing, so here goes. The five symptoms/indicators we keep an eye on are appetite, weight, energy level, poop color/consistency and abdominal tightness. The good: Wilson is eating really well since his feeding tube came out. The only things he will eat right now are ground lamb, rotisserie chicken (without the skin) and cottage cheese, but he eats them consistently and usually licks the bowl clean and looks for more. He gained weight last week, which is fantastic. He also wakes up in the morning with lots of energy, and likes to find a toy to run around the house with. His ribs aren't so prominent and his front end is looking sturdier. The bad: Wilson's poop has remained fairly dark, and/or or extremely runny. The color is the worst part because it's an indicator of internal bleeding, and dark poop is specifically listed as a symptom of pythium. Wilson also isn't gaining weight consistently. Last week he lost weight, and his big gain this week brings him to the weight he was at when the feeding tube came out. He also gets very tired at night, and his abdomen seems a little tight from time to time. (Continued on next post) #dogsofinstagram #wilsonwags

A post shared by Wilson HandsomePants (@wagswithwilson) on

Two months into the treatment, his feeding tube fell out. But the pup that had gone through so much started eating on his own. Emily took that as a sign of his recovery, and started feeding him a diet of meat, cheese, and egg. He gradually put on weight, and his nausea and diarrhea ebbed away.

Wilson still had a long way to go, but he started eating on his own for several weeks and has surpassed the life expectancy given to him at diagnosis. Emily and her fiancé are thrilled to see their pooch recover with a successful treatment plan, but they’re not taking any day for granted. Their plan is to give Wilson the life he deserves regardless of how many days he has left while educating dog owners about pythiosis.

You can follow Wilson’s progress on his Instagram page: Wilson HandsomePants.

What do you think about this heartwarming story? Let us know in the comments.

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Pythiosis Is Usually Fatal in Dogs, But This Pup’s Parents Refuse to Give Up