The presence of diatom algae in a tracheal wash from a German Wirehaired Pointer with aspiration pneumonia

Catherine J. Benson, Mark B. Edlund, Sarah Gray, Lisa Powell, Geisa Paulin-Curlee, Anibal Armien, Jed A. Overmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


A 7-year-old spayed female German Wirehaired Pointer was presented with difficulty breathing after being found seizing in a water-filled drainage ditch while out hunting. Aspirates from a tracheal wash contained numerous degenerate neutrophils, fewer macrophages, some of which contained basophilic debris, low numbers of extracellular diatoms, and a single intracellular short bacterial rod. As the dog continued to clinically decline and could not be weaned from oxygen support, the owners chose euthanasia. The major necropsy finding was a severe granulomatous bronchopneumonia that was likely due to aspiration of foreign material based on the microscopic presence of plant-like material, bi-refringent crystalline material, non-cellular debris, and occasional fungal structures. Diatoms are a class of algae that live primarily in water. Diatom analysis has been used, with some controversy, in human forensics to assist in documenting drowning as the cause of death. In this case, given the clinical history, the presence of diatoms and inflammation in the tracheal wash were interpreted as a likely result of the aspiration of surface water. To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of diatoms observed in a cytologic specimen in a nonhuman mammal with aspiration pneumonia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-226
Number of pages6
JournalVeterinary Clinical Pathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • Dog
  • Drowning
  • Frustules
  • Tracheal wash


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