Many animals that live in or travel through the southern states can be exposed to an illness called Valley Fever. This illness is caused by a fungus that infects the lungs of the animal. Our Doraville vets talk about valley fever in dogs, the symptoms that your pup may develop, and how to prevent this condition.
The Effect of Valley Fever on 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 certain parts of Arizona, it is estimated that 6-10% of dogs will develop symptoms of Valley Fever.
Our vets at WellPet Humane 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 Doraville 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.
Can Valley Fever be transmitted between animals?
Valley Fever in dogs and cats is not contagious between pets, and can only be contracted through the inhalation of spores.
What Symptoms would a dog with Valley Fever experience?
In the early stages, when the spherules are contained within the lungs, symptoms of Valley Fever in dogs typically 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.
How can Valley Fever be treated?
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 prevent your dog from contracting Valley Fever?
If you live in an area known for Valley Fever then your dog will already have an increased risk of contracting this illness. 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 simple ways that you can help to prevent your dog from contracting Valley Fever:
- 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 outlook for dogs after having 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.