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CARES Diagnoses Rare Parasite to Save a Puppy’s Life


“He was close to dying,” recalls Melissa Leach of her Boxer puppy, Oscar. “But then CARES identified this super rare parasite, that saved his life,” she adds. Oscar’s medical problems began shortly after Melissa brought the new puppy home. “He had developed a cough and then it was discovered he had a heart murmur. He started vomiting. Oscar was like a newborn fowl. He would walk really awkward all of a sudden and fall down. But, one day I was carrying him down our stairs and he lost control of his bowels. My family veterinarian told me to take him right away to CARES.”

Doctors at CARES performed an MRI of Oscar’s spine and the results were normal. A spinal tap was then completed and those results came back abnormal, with high levels of protein and various white blood cells. Those abnormalities indicated an infectious or inflammatory disease affecting Oscar’s spinal cord.

Additional blood tests were needed to determine which infectious disease was causing Oscar’s problems. He had now lost his ability to walk, was incontinent and stopped eating. “I was terrified of losing this dog,” recalls Melissa. “To watch a puppy to not be able to walk…lose control…it’s hard to watch any of your pets suffer.”

Oscar’s Diagnosis

When the results of the blood test came back, CARES diagnosed Oscar with a very rare parasite called Neospora. This is an infection that affects mainly the nervous system, muscles and other organ systems in dogs. The main source of infection is from cattle, but the organism can be present in the environment in small numbers in a variety of locations. Puppies are more susceptible to the disease, and it is quite rare to see it in adult dogs. It is also quite difficult to pinpoint exactly where a dog was exposed to the organism. Fortunately, Neospora is usually treatable with antibiotics, and most dogs make strong recoveries over time, though improvement can be gradual. Treatment usually lasts for at least a month, sometimes multiple months.

“The people at CARES were phenomenal,” says Melissa. “I felt confident that Dr. Darrin knew how to treat it and what to do if the antibiotic wasn’t working. Oscar’s blood results for two rounds were not coming down as fast as we wanted to see them come down. But, at no point in time did I feel a sense of hopelessness from Dr. Darrin. He was confident he could save him. I felt the knowledge of the staff at CARES was as up to date as they could possibly be.”

Oscar on the mend
Oscar and Milo

With the proper treatment, Oscar was able to start walking again and little by little he regained his strength. Today he is doing great and Melissa has nicknamed him “terror.” “He is an absolute terror to our other dog,” she says. “He likes to play with and beat up my 85 pound lab. He loves to be outside running in the yard and playing ball!”

“It was always reassuring when I brought him in to CARES,” adds Melissa. “I would say anything they encounter, they will know how to treat! I can’t say enough about their warmth and clarity in communicating what was going on, every step of the way. It’s a phenomenal facility and they had the expertise to catch this!”

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