Valley fever is a condition that can affect both pets and people who live or spend time in the Southwestern states. Our Egg Harbor Township vets talk about valley fever in dogs, how it is contracted and ways that you can help protect your pet to avoid serious health complications.
What is valley fever?
Coccidioidomycosis is a condition that may be more commonly known as valley fever, desert rheumatism, San Joaquin valley fever, and California disease. It can affect a number of animals including people.
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 certain parts of Arizona, it is estimated that 6-10% of dogs will develop symptoms of valley fever.
Valley fever is quite uncommon in pets, even more so in cats. It is estimated that for about every 50 dogs with valley fever, vets will see 1 case in cats.
How is valley fever contracted?
Coccidiodes immitis fungal spores are inhaled by pets which results in the infection. 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.
Can Valley Fever be Transmitted Between Dogs?
Luckily pets cannot 'catch' valley fever from other pets or animals. Infection can only occur by inhaling the spores.
Signs 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.
Treating 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®).
Treatment of valley fever in pets takes 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 to Prevent Valley Fever in Dogs
Those living in the valley are already at an increased risk of contracting valley fever. 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. The healthier your dog is, the stronger their immune system will be and the more likely they will be able to fight off 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.
Outcome of Valley Fever in Dogs
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.