What Is Nocardiosis in Dogs?

Dogs can acquire nocardiosis from running in the grass.
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While most ubiquitous bacteria are harmless, a few pathogens lurk among the crowd, capable of causing your dog serious illness. Nocardiosis is one such disease. Dogs can contract it from dirt and grass. Although the disease can be very serious, veterinarians may treat the condition successfully through the use of surgical techniques and aggressive antibiotic regimens.

The Infectious Organism and Transmission

Nocardia are a group of bacteria that live in soil and grass all over the world. They normally subsist on decaying organic matter but, if inhaled or ingested, they can cause infections in animals. Called norcardiosis, the infection can also gain entrance through open wounds in your dog's skin. Scientists have described approximately 70 species in the genus Nocardia, including 30 that infect animals. Fortunately, nocardiosis is not contagious and will not spread to any other pets you may have.

Forms of the Disease

Nocardiosis occurs in three different forms. The subcutaneous form of the infection occurs under the skin -- usually on your dog’s side -- and is the easiest form to notice and treat. Other times, dogs may develop the infection in their abdomen, when it's called abdominal nocardiosis. This form usually causes an internal abscess to form between the dog’s ribcage and hipbones. This form is very painful, as the abscess repeatedly fills with fluid and drains. Usually, such abscesses form ducts that drain outside the body, allowing easier access and treatment. Veterinarians refer to the third form of the disease, which affects the chest cavity, as thoracic nocardiosis. Unfortunately, thoracic nocardiosis presents vague symptoms, often goes unnoticed, and is the most deadly form of the disease.

Signs and Symptoms

One of the most frustrating aspects of nocardiosis is that the symptoms are often vague. Veterinarians list shortness of breath, lethargy, emaciation, fever and decreased athletic performance as symptoms of the disease. Additionally, the presence of wounds that do not heal may indicate subcutaneous nocardiosis. This disease may be very painful for your furry friend, so seek immediate veterinary care if you suspect your dog may have contracted the bacteria. Unfortunately, once symptoms are apparent, successful treatment may no longer be possible for some forms of the disease.

Treatment and Medication

If your dog contracts nocardiosis, your veterinarian will prescribe a treatment strategy tailored to the specific form and location of the disease. In virtually all cases, your vet will prescribe a long-term course of antibiotics to help your pooch overcome the bacterial infection. If your dog has an abscess that is draining into his body cavity, hospitalization and surgery may be necessary to prevent dehydration. The disease primarily affects dogs who are less than 3 years of age, which may reflect an acquired immunity in older dogs. Some veterinarians consider this evidence that an effective vaccine is a possibility.