The Mill Creek Animal Hospital recently diagnosed three cases of canine schistosomiasis in dogs in Moab. A parasitic worm found in freshwater that is reported mostly in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast States causes canine schistosomiasis, also known as “snail fever,” announced the hospital on social media last week.
Dr. Scott Dolginon on Tuesday, Nov. 27, told The Times-Independent two of the dogs died and a third is recovering.
“One dog had a long history of illness,” said Dolginon, the veterinarian at Mill Creek Animal Hospital, when it died earlier this fall. But on the day Dolginon euthanized the dog, a second dog in the home fell ill, he said, and it, too, was put down after it developed kidney failure.
Dolginon said he performed a necropsy on the animals and sent tissue samples to a lab at Colorado State University, where a pathologist found the fluke, or parasite, that causes canine schistosomiasis.
Dolginon also said there were lesions on the second dog’s kidneys that the CSU pathologist believed was unrelated to what killed it, but Dolginon studied the issue and discovered the flukes also cause kidneys to rapidly develop calcium deposits.
Meanwhile, said Dolginon, a neighbor’s dog became ill and Dolginon said he sent samples to the only lab in the country that tests for snail fever at Texas A&M. The diagnosis was positive. The dog was successfully treated.
The State of Utah sent investigators to take samples and the pond was drained, said Dolginon.
While Dolginon’s sleuthing led to the cause of the illnesses and deaths, he said it might never be known how the parasite made it so far west. Stressing his comment was pure speculation, Dolginon said climate change could be behind the microorganism migration. “Nobody knows that,” he said. “It’s a fluke. There are different species of flukes. A waterfowl could have infected a snail and the snail got in the water.”
Symptoms of schistosomiasis in dogs include weight loss, bloody diarrhea, decreased appetite, and increased thirst and urination.
Dolginon said he will likely publish a report on his findings, saying he and his staff believe they have an ethical responsibility to warn the community and other veterinarians that a potentially fatal canine disease not normally found in the West has been diagnosed. He said anyone observing symptoms of snail fever in their dog needs to get to a veterinarian. “If caught early, it is treatable,” he said.