Family's beloved dog dies from "swamp cancer"

Family's beloved dog dies from "swamp cancer"
An autopsy on three-year-old Max shows his cause of death to be pythiosis or "swamp cancer."

MOSS BLUFF, LA (KPLC) - A rare illness known as "swamp cancer" is to blame for the death of a Moss Bluff family's beloved dog.  It is not just dogs that can be sickened by this devastating disease, it can also affect other animals, even humans.

Jason Rubsamen of Moss Bluff keeps cherished pictures and videos of his rescued pit bull, Max, close by.

"He was a snuggler," said Rubsamen.  "He enjoyed chasing bubbles and really he just played a lot..a lot.  He loved the outside."

Rubsamen says three-year-old Max was always an active dog and a constant companion to the family's other dog, Toby.  That is why it was a red flag when Max started dropping weight suddenly last fall. 

"The vet really couldn't narrow down what it was, so we changed his dog food, we continued to watch him," said Rubsamen.

Between October and January, Max was brought to Dr. Pat Harper and his staff at Animal Medical Center in Moss Bluff four times.  Blood work was always performed, but never came back as abnormal.

"By the time the owners see they have a problem with weight, they bring them in, you can do lab work at that point, usually it's still pretty normal," said Dr. Harper.  "Then some intermittent vomiting starts developing and eventually they vomit a lot."

That was the case with Max and on January 27, the difficult decision was made by the Rubsamen family to put down their dog.  

An autopsy showed Max's cause of death to be from pythiosis, commonly called "swamp cancer," because of the internal masses that look like cancerous tumors.

"It's a free-living organism that lives in swamps and ponds and stagnant water, which we have a lot of around here," said Dr. Harper.

Dr. Harper says swamp cancer is most common in regions with mild winters and seen primarily in horses, dogs, cats, even humans.

"One form is a GI form, which is what we usually see," said Dr. Harper.  "The other is cutaneous, so they can get it by walking through the water and the organism can get on the hair and then wind up penetrating the skin or they drink the water and get it internally."

Wetlands border Rubsamen's property and Max was known to go out and play in the ditches and water. Still, this dog owner might not ever know if it was the water on his property that made his dog so sick.

"Had we ever known, had we ever thought that any of this water was a danger, I would've taken better steps to protect him," said Rubsamen.

Now with Toby, Rubsamen says he is more cautious about where he lets him play and tries to keep him out of area waterways.

"Just be aware that it's out there and your dog can get it at any given time, because what dog doesn't like to play in the water," he said.

The most common treatment for swamp cancer is complete excision, which involves removing the diseased tissue.  There is a specific blood test to confirm the diagnosis of pythiosis.  In Dr. Harper's 35 years as a vet, he has only seen about 20 cases.

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