Dog owners fearful pet will get mysterious illness harming panthers

Reporter: Breana Ross
Published: Updated:

Pet owners want to know what is harming panthers and potentially their dogs.

Heartbreaking video WINK News showed you on Wednesday afternoon of a dog limping, similar to sick panthers, led many of you to call and write to us right away.

By 11 p.m., another dog owner shared a video of her beloved dog, George, with a similar ailment. Tonight, thousands want to know what is causing this ailment.

Before taking her dog, Stash, to the veterinarian, Marie Varriale said he started stumbling on his hind legs after he went to the Bonita Dog Beach in January.

“It’s been a trial,” Varriale said. “I cried – I blamed myself.”

Varriale took Stash to Scan Naples. Dr. Michelle Carnes helped him make progress. The veterinarian said that trouble walking on the hind legs is a symptom of many diseases in the spinal cord.

“The way that the panthers are walking and the way that a lot of pet owners see their dogs walking,” Dr. Carnes said, “that abnormal gait is just reflective of where the problem is in the nervous system.”

Dr. Carnes said what we see in Southwest Florida’s panthers and what dog owners have witnessed are two different scenarios.

“Wildlife has different risk factors for things that seem to affect them with the nervous system,” Dr. Carnes said. “Most commonly, more nutritional or potentially toxic. Whereas in our companion animals that are mainly living in the house that are lots of other things that can cause it.”

Blue-green algae, pesticides and tick bites can cause the symptom. But Dr. Carnes said there is no one explanation.

“We haven’t seen an abnormal spike in disease presentations,” Dr. Carnes said, “that would suggest that there is something emerging going on throughout the population of different species.”

Experts are looking at potential toxins, including rat pesticides, infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies. There is urgency here to make sure this does not spread. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates there are fewer than 230 panthers left in the wild.

As for the sick Florida panthers, Dr. Carnes said the cause of their struggle to walk is still a mystery.

“They are leaning against infectious disease as being a cause for this in the panthers,” Dr. Carnes said. “However, it is important to stress that they currently don’t know yet, but they have been able to rule out a lot and are focused on certain disease processes at the moment.”

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