Valley fever is a serious condition that has the ability to affect people, dogs, cats and livestock throughout the Southwestern states but most commonly in Arizona. Our Carrollton vets discuss the effects of valley fever in dogs and what you can do to prevent it.
What Is Valley Fever in dogs?
Coccidioidomycosis is a condition seen in dogs, cats, livestock and people that goes by a number of different names including Valley Fever, desert rheumatism, San Joaquin Valley Fever, and California disease.
A pathogenic fungus called Coccidiodes immitis, which lives in the soil and prefers specific desert climates, is what causes valley fever. Coccidiodes immitis can be found in the low desert areas of the US, most frequently in Arizona but also in New Mexico, Texas, and California.
Central and Southern Arizona are believed to have the highest incidence of Valley Fever in dogs. In certain parts of Arizona, it is estimated that 6-10% of dogs will develop symptoms of Valley Fever.
Our vets at Carroll County Animal Hospital see Valley Fever in both dogs and cats, although less frequently in cats. It is estimated that for about every 50 dogs with Valley Fever our Carrollton vets will see 1 case in cats.
How do dogs contract Valley Fever?
Pets develop Valley Fever when they breathe in Coccidiodes immitis fungal spores. When your dog inhales the spores they grow into spherules within the pet's lungs.
In dogs that have a strong and healthy immune system, the body is typically able to 'wall off' the spherules preventing symptoms from developing. This means that the pet may have the condition but have no symptoms of Valley Fever, known as asymptomatic.
However, if your dog is very young, old, or has a weakened immune system, the spherules will continue to grow until they eventually burst, releasing hundreds of endospores that can spread throughout the lungs and other areas of your pet's body. At that point, the cycle will start again and the condition will worsen.
Is Valley Fever contagious from one dog to another?
Valley Fever in dogs and cats is not contagious between pets, and can only be contracted through the inhalation of spores.
What are the symptoms of Valley Fever in dogs?
In the early stages, when the spherules are contained within the lungs, symptoms of Valley Fever in dogs typically include:
- Dry cough
- Decreased appetite
- Painful swollen joints
- Persistent fever
- Weight loss
- Eye inflammation
In some very rare severe cases, if the fungus reaches the brain, Valley Fever can result in seizures.
If your dog is displaying symptoms of Valley Fever it is essential to seek veterinary care as quickly as possible to avoid serious health complications.
What are the treatment options for Valley Fever in dogs?
The treatment for dogs with Valley Fever will typically include an anti-fungal medication such as fluconazole (Diflucan®) or itraconazole (Itrafungol® and Sporanox®). Dogs may also be treated with ketoconazole (Nizoral®).
It takes time for pets to recover from valley fever. Most pets will take antifungal medication for at least 6 to 12 months, but if the condition has spread to other parts of their bodies, they may need to take antifungal medication for the rest of their lives.
What are some ways that Valley Fever in dogs can be prevented?
Valley residents are already at a higher risk of contracting Valley Fever. Bringing your dog in for routine vet visits, feeding them a healthy and complete diet, and keeping them inside when it's windy can all help protect them from Valley Fever. The healthier your dog is, the stronger their immune system and the better equipped they will be to fight infections and diseases.
When it comes to protecting your canine companion there are some preventive measures that you can take such as:
- When the weather is windy or if there are dust storms then you should keep your dog inside.
- If it is windy out then it would be beneficial to keep your windows closed to keep the spores from entering your home.
- If you have recently experienced rain then it may be a good idea to keep your dog from playing outside.
- Utilizing grass, gravel or other dust-controlling ground covers in your yard can help prevent the spores from becoming airborne.
- Provide your dog with an air filtration mask.
What is the prognosis for dogs that contract Valley Fever?
- When diagnosed and treated early, many dogs recover well from Valley Fever. Dogs diagnosed with Valley Fever after the disease has spread to other parts of the body are more challenging to treat, and in some cases the disease becomes life-threatening.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.