What is aspergillosis?
Aspergillus is a type of fungus that is normally present in the environment in soil and organic debris under dark, moist, cool conditions. Aspergillus spp. infections (aspergillosis) in small animals occur in two forms: localized and disseminated. Different species of Aspergillus are usually responsible for these two types of infections. Aspergillus fumigatus is more commonly associated with localized disease (usually in the nasal passages and frontal sinuses), whereas A. terreus more commonly causes "disseminated" disease, found in numerous organs.
Aspergillus spp. infections are opportunistic, occurring in immunocompromised individuals. Most dogs and cats are resistant to infection by an organism that is normally present in their environment. Dogs and cats diseased from nasal aspergillus probably have a defect in their immune system at the level of the nasal mucosa. Those acquiring disseminated aspergillosis are believed to have a systemic immunodeficiency, which sometimes is believed to have a genetic component because it occurs more commonly in certain breeds.
What are the symptoms of aspergillosis?
Nasal aspergillosis is characterized by the following:
- Facial pain
- Abnormal nasal discharge (mucoid to bloody)
- Depigmentation of the nostrils (the nose turns pink or white)
- Crusting sores on the nostrils
- Loss of appetite
The disease most commonly affects young, male dogs with a medium to long nose (German shepherds, Rottweilers). Plaques of aspergillus fungus colonize and invade the nasal and sinus mucosa, eroding underlying tissue. Untreated, the infection can progress into the central nervous system through the cribiform plate (the division between the nose and the brain), causing neurologic signs such as seizures, and can cause life-threatening nosebleeds.
Dogs with disseminated disease have nonspecific symptoms that can include loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, and other problems.
Disseminated aspergillosis is a more serious disorder in which fungal organisms spread into vital organs such as the kidneys, liver, spleen, invertebral discs, and lymph nodes, causing serious systemic illness. German shepherds are most commonly affected.
Client handout reference from Ettinger: Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 7th Edition.
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