Rare Flesh-Eating Disease Afflicts Dog; Innovative Treatment Saves Her Life
Shasta before surgery.
Paula Prevot had always wanted a solid black German shepherd dog. In 2010, she found one and named her Shasta. The puppy was only nine weeks old when Paula brought her home from Missouri. Shasta grew into a healthy and happy dog who loved to guard the family’s front yard and sleep in her favorite chair in Paula’s bedroom. Then, at 10 years old, Shasta contracted what turned out to be a rare flesh-eating disease.
“It started with a very small puncture on the shoulder that looked like a snake bite in July of 2019. We treated it with several different antibiotics and topical ointments, but nothing helped,” Prevot said.
By the end of October, Shasta was diagnosed with pythiosis by Sandra Merchant, DVM, DACVD, professor emerita of veterinary dermatology. Prevot, who lives in Shreveport, brought Shasta to the University Veterinary Hospital for a consultation and met Dr. Merchant, who happened to be at the hospital for her semi-monthly rotation there. Pythiosis is a fungal-like infection caused by the aquatic mold Pythium insidiosum and occurs in dogs, horses, and humans. It is generally contracted when animals drink, stand, or swim in stagnant contaminated water. Prevot has a pond on her property and believes that’s where Shasta likely came into contact with this organism. However, her other dogs both swam in the same water and experienced no problems. Within three months, the lesion on Shasta had grown so huge that surgery was thought to be impossible.
“I fought it for months. It got worse. I felt so helpless. We were lucky we arrived at the hospital on a day Dr. Merchant was here in our city,” Prevot said. After the diagnosis was made, appropriate medicine was started with the hopes it would help Shasta. Some pythium infections do not respond to any therapy. Shasta’s infection initially responded, but then it worsened dramatically.
As Shasta’s health deteriorated, Prevot wondered whether euthanasia would be the kind thing to do. Shasta was referred to Michelle Woodward, DVM, DACVD, then assistant professor of veterinary dermatology at the LSU SVM, to utilize the hyperbaric chamber in an attempt to help treat the infection. While there, Dr. Woodward asked her colleague to evaluate Shasta to see if radical surgery would be feasible. Avery Bennett, DVM, DACVS, then professor of small animal surgery at the LSU SVM, determined that he could remove Shasta’s front leg and use the remaining shoulder skin to cover the gaping hole that would be left from the removal of the infected tissue. “Amputation was a hard decision. But it was the right decision because the lesion was so large. It was amputation or euthanasia,” Prevot said.
Shasta’s aftercare was overseen by LSU SVM alumna, Rachel McNair, DVM (LSU SVM 2015), through University Veterinary Hospital. Shasta developed a very resistant bacterial infection at her surgery site and a 105-degree fever. Dr. McNair started Shasta on daily injectable antibiotics until the bacterial infection had resolved and continued the medication for the pythium infection for another two months.
Now, 18 months later, Shasta is doing great, no longer takes medications, and has had no recurrence of the disease. She is back to her job of guarding the family’s yard. She’s treated like a princess in her family of LSU Tigers (Paula studied psychology and accounting, her husband studied architecture, and each of their four children studied at LSU, as well.).
“I was committed to help Shasta. We’re on the other side of the crisis. Every day, she’s doing better and better. I felt she was in good hands the whole time,” Prevot said.
Sandra Sarr, MFA