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Watch Out for Standing Water

Novel Surgical Procedure Saves Resilient Retriever's Field Trial Career

By Nik Hawkins, University of Wisconsin Veterinary Care Newsletter
Nik Hawkins is a Director of Communications and Public Relations at University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

For an athletic dog, breathing problems can be devastating. Jack, a three-year-old Labrador Retriever and one of the youngest field trial dogs at the national level, faced this very challenge just a few months ago.  But his natural toughness, coupled with UW Veterinary Care’s surgical expertise, have put him back on top again.

When he was four months old, Jack contracted Pythiosis, an infectious disease caused when an animal ingests Pythium insidiosum, usually by drinking standing water.  The organism typically invades through wounds in the skin or gastrointestinal tract, develops in the stomach or small intestine, and eventually forms granular tissue, much like a scab, that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and even death.

However, with the help of quality veterinary medical attention and diligent care from his owners at the time – namely, trainer Charlie Moody and his wife, Heather – Jack pulled through.  He recovered well and quickly demonstrated an aptitude for field trials, events in which hunting dogs compete against each other. He earned his first championship and qualified for his first national competition when he was barely three years old.

“It’s rare for a dog so young to compete with top-level dogs, but he can,” says Wally Riffle, who along with his wife, Cheryl, adopted Jack when he was 21 months old.

However, signs of trouble emerged again during Jack’s first trip to Nationals, when the Riffles noticed he was struggling to breathe. They brought him to a veterinary medical school closer to their hometown of Germantown, Tennessee, where veterinarians determined that a benign mass of tissue, possibly linked to his brush with Pythiosis, had formed in his larynx, leading to laryngeal paralysis. They recommended a procedure that would tie back the laryngeal cartilage. This would help Jack breathe better, but it could also severely hamper his athletic pursuits by putting him at risk for aspiration during water retrievals. 

Jack holds his first place ribbon following his victory at the Magnolia Field Trial Club.

Edited by Christine Miller, M.S.
Christine Miller, M.S. is a freelance writer and editor based in Oceanside, California.

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