With a nickname like “swamp cancer,” you know it’s nothing good. Pythiosis is a rare but severe waterborne disease caused by a fungal-like organism called Pythium insidiosum. While more commonly known as a disease of plants, pythiosis can also infect animals—with terrible results.
Found in warmer climates with plenty of standing water, pythiosis is most commonly seen in the Gulf States (TX, LA, FL, MS, AL), southeast Asia, and South American. The organism attaches itself to small wounds in the skin or gastrointestinal tract and grows into large, often ulcerated lesions. If it starts in the skin, owners will notice large red itchy lumps. If it takes root in the GI tract, owners will notice signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. The disease is most commonly diagnosed in Labradors, a breed known for their love of swimming.
Because it is challenging to diagnose, pythiosis is often undiscovered until it is in an advanced stage. The organism is resistant to many treatments, and surgery is the treatment of choice.