Valley Fever is a fungal infection that can affect dogs in certain parts of the US including those who have only visited these areas. Our Nashua vets share the signs of Valley Fever in dogs, what to know about it, and what the expected outcome may be.
What is valley fever and how does it affect 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.
Valley fever is caused by a pathogenic fungus called Coccidiodes immitis that lives in the soil and thrives in particular desert climates. In the US Coccidiodes immitis can be found in the low desert regions of New Mexico, Texas, California, and most commonly in Arizona.
Central and Southern Arizona are believed to have the highest incidence of Valley Fever in dogs. In Arizona, up to 10% of the dog population
Our vets at Animal Hospital of Nashua 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 Nashua vets will see 1 case in cats.
How does a dog 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.
If however your dog is very young, old, or has a compromised immune system the spherules will continue to grow until they eventually burst, releasing hundreds of endospores that can spread throughout the lungs and other parts of your pet's body where the cycle will begin again and the condition will become increasingly severe.
Is Valley Fever contagious?
The good news is that Valley Fever cannot be passed from one pet to another. The infection is directly caused by the spores.
What are the symptoms of Valley Fever in dogs?
In the early stages, when the spherules are contained within the lungs, the usual symptoms of Valley Fever include:
- Dry cough
- Decreased appetite
Once the fungal spores have reached other parts of your dog's body the signs of Valley Fever in dogs may become more severe and could include:
- Painful swollen joints
- Persistent fever
- Weight loss
- Eye inflammation
If the fungus that causes Valley Fever reaches the brain of your dog, they may experience 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?
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®).
The biggest factor during treatment for this fungal infection is time. Most pets will remain on antifungal medication for a minimum of 6 - 12 months but if the condition has spread throughout their body there is a chance that they will need to remain on antifungal medications for life.
How can you protect your dog from contracting Valley Fever?
The main factor in Valley Fever infections is the area that you live in or spend time in. Ensuring that you bring your dog in for routine vet visits, feed them a healthy and complete diet, and keep them inside when it gets windy can all go a long way toward protecting them against Valley Fever. By keeping your dog healthy, you can help to protect them against various conditions, including Valley Fever.
Here are some of the preventive measures that you can take to help protect your dog:
- 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 with Valley Fever?
A large number of dogs recover from Valley Fever with no serious complications. 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.