Awareness, quick action key to battling canine bacterial disease
By Cheryl May
Saving the life of a dog with Canine Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome requires quick action by the pet owner and awareness of the disease by the attending veterinarian.
That's the word from Dr. Brad Fenwick, Kansas State University veterinarian who has been studying the disease since he first observed it among racing greyhounds. Little is known about transmission or prevention.
"Typically, dogs that develop Canine Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome are healthy prior to being found very sick only a few hours later," Fenwick said. "The course of the disease from initial recognition of disease to death can be as short as six hours. Typically, infected dogs are found lying down, on their side, either too weak to move or experiencing rigidity with mild convulsions. At an early stage vomiting may occur. The dog also may have rapid, uncontrolled fine muscle twitches."
Fenwick said a consistent and important clinical finding is a very high temperature -- greater than 105 degrees F. Treatment at this point with injectable antibiotics, clindamycin or crystalline penicillin-G, is important in order to increase the likelihood of recovery.
As the disease progresses a deep, nonproductive cough typical of pulmonary edema develops. The dog may soon experience spontaneous hemorrhaging including coughing up blood, bleeding from the nose, severe bruising of the skin, and in some cases bloody diarrhea. At this point, antibiotics and even aggressive shock therapy are generally not sufficient to save these dogs. Fenwick said the mortality rate is 70-80 percent for dogs that are not treated quickly and appropriately.
When owners and their veterinarians catch the disease in its early stages, the chances for a recovery are significantly improved, he said.
Although he said the cause may be new strains of Streptococci, Fenwick does not believe Canine Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome is a brand new disease, but rather that it has been misdiagnosed in the past. Cases have been confirmed from as early as 1979.
"It looks very similar to a poisoning -- similar to what can happen when a dog gets into rat poison. It's more of a toxicosis than many other bacterial infections," he said. And although he believes it is more common than once thought -- that cases have been occurring unrecognized for many years, he said it is still relatively uncommon.
"We think it is fairly rare," Fenwick said, "maybe one case in every 50,000 dogs, but that is just a guess, because we do not keep death certificates on dogs, nor do we have reportable statistics on dog deaths. Many veterinarians have never seen a case. Others learn more about it and then recall cases they have had in the past and wonder if a specific case might have been Canine Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome."
Fenwick said some misinformation is being circulated about the syndrome. He said there is no evidence that the disease can be transmitted from dog to dog, from humans to dogs, or from dogs to humans. The human version of the disease first emerged about 10 years ago. Among the victims was Muppet creator Jim Henson. Rapid onset, high fever, hypotension and shock are prominent characteristics of Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome in humans and dogs.
Fenwick does not recommend that dog owners make any changes in their routine to try to prevent the disease.
"There is no justification to do anything differently," he said. "We have no evidence that dog show conditions, crowding, sharing crates or bowls, or stress is a cause of this disease. People should not panic and change what they are doing. There is no reason to stop showing or participating in performance sports."
Also, although Fenwick is conducting research on the disease, dog owners should not expect to see a vaccine for it. The disease is caused by a toxin -- Toxic Shock Toxin -- that is a super-antigen, which short-circuits the immune system. If a vaccine with a super-antigen is injected into an individual, it wouldn't be effective. Fenwick explained that it is the same reason people can get food poisoning over and over again -- the body can't produce an effective immunity against these toxins.
A tissue sample is required to confirm the diagnosis of Canine Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome.
If you or your veterinarian have questions, or if you think your dog may have the disease, contact Dr. Brad Fenwick, Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, at (785) 532-4412, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Fenwick would like information on any dog who may have or have had Canine Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome, surviving or not. Contact him regarding cultures and tissue samples he needs and where to send them.
Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome" - Fact sheet