Histoplasmosis: A Deadly Disease in Cats and Dogs. (Click image to enlarge) Posted 10/27/2011

Josie Age: 13 yr


 His-to-plas-mo-sis ————-A fungal disease.   

About 13 years ago my daughter returned home from a neighbor’s Christmas party. She had met a woman who said that her neighbor had a family of feral cats that she wanted someone to trap. After hearing the story I called the people to tell them that I would trap the cats for them if they were willing to pay for the spays and or neuters and vaccinations of the cats.             

So I set out two traps and within days I had trapped the mother cat and three kittens. My vet could not immediately do the spay/neuters and I had to keep the cats in special cages for several days. During that time I noticed that the long haired black and white kitten was smaller and not nearly as perky as her litter mates. I took the mother cat and the two healthy kittens to my vet who spayed the mother and a female kitten and neutered a male kitten. I returned the cats to the people but kept the little black and white one that did not appear healthy. I put her in a larger cage in a spare bedroom where I began feeding her high quality cat food. Her appetite was poor and she seemed lethargic. In addition her breathing pattern was rapid. Within the time span of a weekend her condition went from what I considered puny to very ill.       

On Monday she refused to eat. Her respirations were quite rapid and shallow. I was extremely distressed and by the time my vet, Dr. M. saw her mid-morning I was afraid she was going to die. Dr. M. did a thorough exam, drew some blood, and then took some x-rays. He told me that her white count was high, the spleen enlarged, and that her lungs had some type of infection. He had never seen a young cat with what he called a peculiar looking x-ray.  He could not discern the pattern but he had every intention of finding out what was wrong with the little cat. He prescribed amoxicillin  drops and a liquid vitamin with iron. I was instructed to wait about two hours between the two medications because the iron would interfere with the absorption of the amoxicillin (a type of penicillin).       

The next day Dr. M. called me at home and asked me to come to the clinic so that he could show me the x rays and explain Josie’s illness.  I drove the 4 miles to the clinic expecting something really dreadful. Dr. M. had one of the x rays on the screen. He pointed to her spleen and then said,”I spent a couple of hours or more last night going through this book” which he pointed to on the counter. “It is my go to book when I have something that I don’t know.” He then went on to explain that Josie’s x ray matched exactly, the photo in the book of a cat with histoplasmosis. I then said, ” are you saying that animals get the same disease as humans?” And of course his answer was “yes”,indeed cats and dogs get “histo” which is a fungal disease that is mainly found in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys- where it is very humid and of course that is exactly where the fungus thrives in areas that have long periods of rain and humidity. (There has been an increase in the number of cats and dogs diagnosed with this disease in recent years. Veterinarians have become more aware of the disease via seminars, journals, or are grads from vet school the past 20 years or so.) I knew that Josie had been born and raised in pile of wood and debris near a creek so that explained her exposure to the fungus.         

As we were talking I literally had begun wringing my hands for I feared the worst possible outcome. However, Dr. M said he had good news- the disease was treatable but that it would take at least 2-3 weeks before she would begin to show improvement. “The medication is going to be in liquid form and I have called a pharmacy that knows how to compound.” Dr. M. also told me to force feed her if she refused to eat.       

The medication is called itraconazole (a human medication that is compounded into liquid form) and she would receive her dosage which he had calculated on Josie’s weight. The med was ready the next day and it was not cheap. But 13 years years ago it was around $45 for a two months supply. Itraconazole is an anti-fungal medication. It is available in oral capsule for humans or turned into liquid form so that a precise dosage can be given to a pet. The med is prepared flavored with tuna or chicken at the pet owner’s request.      

The road to controlling this disease in Josie was extremely rough for about 3-4 weeks. I kept Josie in a large cage since she was still semi- feral and very ill as well. I need to make it clear that histoplasmosis is not contagious; it is not transmittable animal to animal or animal to human and vice versa.              

Post by: Yvonne Daniel       Photograph by: Yvonne Daniel

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