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Protothecosis is a disease found in dogs, cats, and humans caused by a type of mutant green algae that lacks chlorophyll. The two most common species are Prototheca wickerhami and Prototheca zopfii. Prototheca is found worldwide in sewage. Infection is rare despite high exposure, and can be related to a defective immune system. In dogs, females and Collies are most commonly affected.

The two main forms of protothecosis are cutaneous and disseminated. Cats are exclusively infected with the cutaneous, or skin, form. Symptoms include soft lumps on the skin of the ears, legs, feet, nose, and head. Infection usually occurs through a wound in the skin. The disseminated form is seen in dogs and humans. The algae enters the body through the mouth or nose and causes infection in the intestines. From there it can spread to the eye, brain, and kidneys. Symptoms can include diarrhea, weight loss, weakness, inflammation of the eye (uveitis), retinal detachment, deafness, and seizures.

Diagnosis is through culture or finding the organism in a biopsy. Surgery is the treatment of choice for the cutaneous form. Treatment of the disseminated form is very difficult, although use of antifungal medication has been successful in a few cases. Prognosis for cutaneous protothecosis is guarded and depends on the surgical options. Prognosis for the disseminated form is grave.


  • Ettinger, Stephen J.;Feldman, Edward C.(1995).Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine(4th ed.). W.B. Saunders Company. ISBN 0-7216-6795-3

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