WSU helps dog recover from lung condition

Closeup of Blaze, a 7-year-old dog.
Now months after being declared healthy, Blaze is thriving, although his owners remain alert for signs the infection has returned.

It is still a mystery as to what caused abscesses to engulf the lungs of Ashley Hayes’ dog, Blaze, but the 7-year-old is now back in good health thanks to the persistence of his owners and the care he received at Washington State University. 

“We’re so grateful we were able to get into WSU, and we were just extremely impressed with the staff and the care they provided to Blaze,” Hayes said. “Being Pullman residents, we’re so fortunate WSU is in our backyard.” 

Prior to being seen at WSU, various veterinarians throughout the region were confounded by Blaze’s persistent — and sometimes bloody — cough for nearly two months. First, they suspected kennel cough. Next allergies, followed by kennel cough again. Then X-rays suggested he may have a cancerous tumor growing on one of his lungs.

“We just wanted to know what was going on. After he had chest X-rays, the veterinarian came back and said Blaze had a huge mass in his chest,” Hayes said. “We were unable to get into oncology at WSU because they were so backed up, so my husband and I started calling veterinary oncologists all throughout the region.”

Fortunately, Hayes found an opening at WestVet in Boise, which employs numerous veterinary professionals who trained at WSU and partners with the College of Veterinary Medicine to provide a unique internship training and joint residency program. 

After more extensive tests, a CT scan of Blaze’s chest found cancer was not the culprit. It turned out his lungs were riddled with fluid-filled abscesses. What was causing the abscesses was still unknown — although parasites were one suspicion — and taking samples to get a better idea would be too high risk, as there was a chance an abscess could burst and spread infection through his body. 

“They were able to determine it wasn’t cancer,” Hayes said, “but whatever it was, it was very quickly progressing.”

Blaze

Blaze was prescribed a pair of antibiotics by WestVet and referred to WSU’s Internal Medicine service to continue his care. Once he was finally seen at WSU in July, the antibiotics seemed to be working. X-rays and a CT scan showed some improvement, but the cough — and blood — soon returned.

The next round of X-rays and CT scans confirmed Blaze’s worsening condition.

“When you look at the scans from June in Boise, I would say roughly 65% to 75% of his lungs were covered in abscesses,” said Dr. Neil Sinha, a veterinary resident in WSU’s Internal Medicine service. “In August, at least 90% of the lungs were covered.”

Rather than taking a biopsy and risking rupturing an abscess, Sinha performed an airway wash, a procedure to evaluate the lungs for infection. It was found that Blaze’s lungs were infected with E. coli that had grown resistant to the prescribed antibiotics.

Armed with this new information, Sinha prescribed a new form of antibiotics. Follow-up testing in November showed Blaze was free of abscesses.

While the cause of the abscesses was never determined, Sinha suspects Blaze inhaled a foreign material, possibly cheatgrass, that resulted in a bacterial infection. 

“I think whatever had been harboring in his chest had probably been going on for a while, it just probably manifested or presented itself at the time in May,” Sinha said.

Now months after being declared healthy, Blaze is thriving, although his owners remain alert for signs the infection has returned.

“His X-rays show some scarring in his lungs, but that hasn’t affected his quality of life at all,” Hayes said. “It was a very long and scary journey, and the fact is we still really have no idea what caused it. My husband and I don’t have children yet — Blaze is our baby. It was very emotional, and once we found something that worked, we were just so relieved.” 

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