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The Golden Retriever breed, often shortened to simply “Golden”, was developed as a water retriever. These dogs are excellent swimmers and they will spend as much time in the water as they can. Unfortunately, spending time in natural bodies of water can put your Golden at risk for a dangerous infection called pythiosis.

What is Pythiosis?

Also known as “water mold infection,” pythiosis is a rare type of fungal infection that is caused by a parasitic spore belonging to an aquatic mold called Pythium insidiosum. These dangerous spores can enter the dog’s body through the nose, the esophagus, or even the skin. Once the spores are inside the dog’s body, they generally settle in the brain, sinuses, lungs, or intestinal tract. Some dogs with pythiosis also develop cutaneous or subcutaneous masses that manifest in the form of lesions or lumps on the legs, head, neck, tail, perineum or the inner thigh.

The mold responsible for pythiosis infections is generally found in stagnant water, particularly in the southern region of the United States as well as the Gulf Coast region. Stagnant water is generally found in swampy areas and it most commonly appears during the fall or early winter, though it can also survive in tropical or subtropical climates including wetlands and ponds. Dogs like the Golden Retriever can contract the disease by drinking, standing in, or swimming in water that has been contaminated with the spores.

Treatment and Management of the Disease

Although pythiosis is fairly uncommon in dogs and rare in cats, the symptoms can be very severe and they vary depending where the spores settle inside the dog’s body. Gastrointestinal forms of the disease are most common, causing symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and palpable masses in the abdomen. The subcutaneous form of pythiosis is less common but signs of this type of infection usually involve swollen nodules and/or lesions that form on the legs, head and at the base of the dog’s tail. These lesions may become inflamed and itchy with time.

Unfortunately, pythiosis is sometimes difficult to diagnose since it manifests in so many different ways and the symptoms overlap with those of more common conditions. It is also unfortunate but true that the disease is generally fatal unless it is diagnosed very early. Treatment may involve surgical removal of the nodules as well as oral or topical treatment with antifungal agents. None of these treatments has a particularly high success rate which is why it is very important that you keep your Golden Retriever away from stagnant water and you seek veterinary care at the very first indication of a problem.

Golden Retrievers are very talented retrievers and they absolutely love to spend time in the water. While swimming and retriever are both great forms of exercise for the Golden Retriever, it is important to make sure that your dog does not come into contact with any standing water because it could put him at risk for a pythiosis infection which can be very serious. The longer you wait to make a diagnosis, the lower your dog’s chances for recovery get so be observant!

Photo credit: Valerio Pardi/
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