Cryptococcosis in Dogs and Cats
Cryptococcosis is one of the most common fungal diseases in the world. It primarily affects cats but can also be seen in other animals and humans. Keep reading to learn more about cryptococcosis, symptoms in pets, and how it’s treated.
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What is Cryptococcosis?
Cryptococcosis is a disease caused by the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans. The fungi are found worldwide in soil and bird droppings, especially those of pigeons. It feeds on the products of decay and organic breakdown and prefers to grow moist soil. For that reason, Cryptococcus is more common in areas with higher rainfall, such as the Northwestern United States.
Is my pet at risk?
Although cryptococcosis most commonly affects cats, it is also seen in dogs, cattle, horses, sheep, goats, birds, and wild animals.
How can my pet get cryptococcosis?
Tiny fungal particles (spores) in the air are inhaled through the nose or mouth. The organisms colonize the nasal cavity and sinuses. Invasion of nearby tissues, such as the skin (face and neck), eyes, brain, and lymph nodes is also a possibility.
Pets who spend the majority of their time indoors are still at risk for the disease.
Signs Your Pet May Have Cryptococcosis
- Nasal discharge - thick, bloody, green, or yellow
- Pawing at face
- Facial swelling - bridge of the nose (cats)
- Eye involvement
- Skin ulceration
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Lack of appetite
- Nervous system signs - seizures, wobbly, uncoordinated movement or weakness, blindness
- Eventually becomes systemic - spreading through blood and lymph to lungs and abdominal organs
Diagnosis of Cryptococcosis in Dogs and Cats
- Evaluation of cells from the nasal cavity - nasal flushing with saline may be necessary
- Biopsy of skin lesions
- Cell samples from affected lymph nodes
- Blood and urine cultures
- Specific blood tests to detect Cryptococcus
- For pets showing neurologic signs, a spinal tap may be necessary
- Potentially, more advanced tests, such as radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, or CT scan
Treatment of Cryptococcosis in Dogs and Cats
Typically, a long course of oral antifungal medication is required, until the fungus is cleared. More serious cases may require hospitalization for intravenous antifungal medication and supportive care, such as intravenous fluids and nutritional support.
Follow-up veterinary monitoring is necessary, as antifungal medication can have side effects for internal organs, such as the liver. Treatment and monitoring can last anywhere from 3-12 months.
Can I get cryptococcosis from my pet?
People are susceptible to the disease as well. Transmission is by inhalation of fungal spores from the soil, not exposure to an infected dog or cat. Cryptococcosis primarily affects immunocompromised individuals.
Prognosis for Pets with Cryptococcosis
Outcomes are generally good if the disease is detected early, treated, and monitored appropriately. About 30% of affected pets relapse once treatment is finished.