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What Causes Valley Fever in Dogs? – Symptoms and Treatments

Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis) - 3D Illustration Showing Fungal Arthroconidia

Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis) is a fungal disease pretty much common among dogs in the southwestern United States. It is prevalent among dogs in the desert regions of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Some reports have even made their way as far north as Oregon and Washington states.

But a study by The University of Arizona Health Sciences reports that 4% of dogs are affected by Valley Fever in the state. And the dog owners spend somewhere to the tune of $60 million every year.

And if you are considering a trip or planning to move to this part of the country, you need to learn about this disease to protect your canine family members. This article walks you through everything you need to know about Valley Fever, including symptoms, treatments, side effects, and much more.

How Do Dogs Get Valley Fever?

Sometimes called “San Joaquin Valley fever” or “desert rheumatism”, Valley Fever is a respiratory illness in dogs caused by pathogenic fungi called Coccidioides immitis.

The fungus generally exists in the soil as a mold and goes into a dormant state due to the arid conditions. During the rainy season, they grow and produce long filaments that contain contagious spores. When your dog digs around, the spores are disturbed and become airborne as well. If they inhale the spores, they metamorphose into a yeast-like organism, which then infects the lungs.

Fewer than 10 spores are required to cause the disease in susceptible animals.

What Are the Symptoms?

Healthy adult dogs can ward off the infection without any minimal signs of the disease. But puppies and older dogs have a weak immune system, hence they are susceptible to Valley Fever.

The most common symptoms of Valley Fever are:

  • Fever
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing
  • Signs of depression

These symptoms signal a fungal infection in the lungs. As the disease progresses, the dog may develop pneumonia, which is detected through x-rays.

Your dog may take 7-21 days to develop symptoms of Valley Fever after exposure to the spores. However, the severity of the symptoms depends on the number of fungal spores inhaled by your dog.

What Is Disseminated Valley Fever in Dogs?

When the infection spreads outside the dog’s lungs, it reaches a more severe stage. In this stage, the fungus has been disseminated and spreads to other parts of the body.

The symptoms include:

  • Lameness, swollen joints, and limbs
  • Meningitis, or inflammation of the membranes around the brain and the spinal cord
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the chin, in front of the shoulder blades, or behind the stifles
  • Skull lesions (which are quite painful)
  • Muscle aches and stiffness
  • Headaches, back or neck pain
  • Seizures and other indications of the swollen central nervous system
  • Soft lumps under the skin resembling abscesses
  • Non-healing skin wounds that ooze fluid
  • Eye inflammation with pain or cloudiness
  • Sudden heart failure in a young dog
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • Change in mental status

How Serious Is It?

Valley Fever is deadly for dogs with a weakened immune system or underlying conditions. A small number of dogs die from the severity of the disease every year despite veterinarians’ every effort to save them.

Few may need antifungal medications for life. Then again, there is the risk of relapse or reinfections in certain other cases.

Is Valley Fever Painful in Dogs?

If the Valley Fever spreads to other parts of the body, including bones, it can then cause severe pain. For disseminated disease, the infection can spread to the bones and joints. In the event of this happening, your pet may also suffer from painful and swollen joints.

Consult your veterinarian for pain relief and cough suppressants. This will not only make him feel better but also increase his appetite. Left untreated, the dogs can lose their legs altogether. In rare cases, the infections develop on the central nervous system, which can be fatal to the animal.

Can Valley Fever Affect the Dog’s Brain?

In severe cases, Valley Fever can affect your dog’s brain. When the fungus invades the brain, it can cause seizures.

These dogs usually need treatment all through their lives. The vet will have your pet on anti-seizure medication and steroids to reduce the swelling for the time being.

What Is the Prognosis?

Generally, dogs whose infections are confined to the lungs alone have a good prognosis and respond better to treatment. However, if the infection is too severe, where it has disseminated to other parts of the body, the veterinarian will suggest hospitalization or surgery in addition to medication.

Dogs with disseminated disease may need prolonged treatment, sometimes more than a year. However, depending on the spread, few animals may be on medications for life. Another small number may die from the complications arising from underlying health conditions.

How Is the Valley Fever in Dogs Diagnosed?

The symptoms don’t correspond to Valley Fever alone but also a myriad of other conditions. Some dogs do not show any symptoms of the primary infection. The veterinarian may recommend the below tests to confirm the presence of the disease.

Titer Tests

One of the tests will include a titer test. It confirms the presence of antibodies, evidence of exposure to the fungus. Depending on the dog’s signs and symptoms, he may need the following tests:

  • Blood cell counts
  • Blood chemistry panels
  • Diagnostic x-rays (chest and infected legs)
  • Biopsy of samples (fluids and tissue)

Can It Be Cured?

Broadly Yes! This Statistics Report says that 90% of the dogs recover from the disease if caught early. In a few cases, the vets might prescribe medication for life, but others get back to everyday life just as before Valley Fever.

But, ensure that you continue the full course of medication since they can easily relapse.

How Do You Treat Valley Fever in Dogs?

In the first place, your veterinarian would do tests and x-rays to confirm the presence of the disease.

Once confirmed, he would suggest one of the below medications:

The antifungal medication works to control the pathway and also restrict the spread of the fungus.

Depending on the severity of the infections, your dog will have medications for 6-12 months. In the case of a brain infection, the antifungal medication may be for life. But you should be able to detect an improvement in your dog’s health within 1-2 weeks.

The treatment may also require:

  • Intravenous fluids
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Surgical intervention for infected eyes and heart failure

What Are the Side Effects of Fluconazole in Dogs?

Due to its easy absorption in the GI tract, fluconazole is often the choice of a veterinarian.

Valley Fever - What Are the Side Effects of Fluconazole in Dogs?

The side effects of the medication include:

Dogs with pre-existing liver and kidney issues are prone to develop a bad reaction. In these cases, the veterinarian would keep an eye on his liver enzymes via a blood test.

What Is the Follow-Up Procedure after Treatment?

The veterinarian monitors the dog’s blood panels every month as long as he is on medication. Kidney and liver blood tests help the vet understand how the animal metabolizes the drugs.

  • Liver and kidney chemistry after one month of Fluconazole.
  • Blood Chemistry after six months
  • Complete Blood Count after six months
  • Titer test every six months

However, in the case of dogs on long-term treatment plans, the frequency may reduce.

How Do You Prevent Valley Fever?

Valley Fever - US States Affected by Valley Fever
US States Affected by Valley Fever

Short of moving away from the region, there is no sure-fire way to prevent canine Valley Fever. Since it is one of the endemic areas that are fastly growing, it is impossible to avoid it.

The fungus lives 12″ deep in the ground and in spotted areas. So it is not possible to treat the soil.

The better prevention method is to:

  • Avoid activities that generate dust.
  • Get the dog out of the soil.
  • Stop them from digging.
  • Do not your dog sniff rodent holes.
  • Cover your yard with gravel or grass.

Can Valley Fever Come Back in Dogs?

Yes! Valley fever is well known to come back no matter how the initial infection was treated. If a dog does not develop an antibody to the disease, he can relapse.

If your dog relapses, all you need is to get him back on the medication to control the signs. But the treatment this time around will be longer than the initial occurrence.

Can Valley Fever Cause Blindness in Dogs?

Yes! There is a chance that Valley Fever can cause blindness in your dog.

40% of the dogs suffering from the disease will have an eye infection. If your dog’s eyes are infected, then there are chances that it can develop inflammation leading to retinal detachment and glaucoma.

In rare cases, it can also cause blindness.

Is There a Vaccine for Valley Fever?

Valley Fever is a fungal infection, and as such, there is no vaccine currently available. However, considering the spread of the disease, there are vaccines currently in production.

How Much Does It Cost to Treat Valley Fever?

Treatment for Valley Fever can last from months to even years. The medication, fluconazole, costs as much as $200 per month, not factoring in the other necessary medications or tests.

Additionally, reports from Arizona state that the prices are more likely to continue to rise as they have done in the past.

Is Valley Fever in Dogs Contagious?

No! There is no record of Valley Fever being a contagious disease. Even if more animals in the household develop an infection, it is due to the inhalation of spores.

Even coughing or open sores cannot spread the disease.

Are There Vitamins or Nutritional Supplements for Dogs with Valley Fever?

Your dog can receive a multivitamin supplement to boost his overall well-being and immunity. If your dog is on ketoconazole, he will be recommended a Vitamin C supplement to aid the absorption of the drug.

Since lack of appetite is common among dogs with Valley Fever, you might have to consult your vet about his nutritional needs. He might also prescribe an appetite stimulant to help your dog eat. But if nothing else works, a feeding tube may be the only option.

If your dog has been on medication for months at a time, he may have elevated liver enzymes. Denamarin, a blend of milk thistle and SAM-e, can bring down the levels.

However, they should be used only under the advisement of a veterinarian.

Can I Give Natural Medicine for Valley Fever in Dogs?

Yes! You can give natural medications to your pet. However, it should be under the consultation of a holistic animal care practitioner.

When treating naturally, your treatment plan would be to:

  • Boost immunity
  • Feed antifungal foods, anti-inflammatory foods, and nutraceuticals

Instead of conventional antifungal medications, your vet might prescribe:

  • Caprylic Acid
  • Olive Leaf Extract and Grapefruit Seed Extract
  • Oil of Oregano
  • Colloidal Silver

Another option is to feed your pet foods containing chitinase like banana, kiwi, peach, apricot, tomatoes, turnip, watermelon, celery, apple, squash family, etc.

Conclusion

Dog Wearing Blue Mask

Valley Fever or desert rheumatism is caused by a fungus common in the desert regions of Arizona and the nearby states. When your dog inhales the spores of the fungus, it causes Valley Fever.

The most common early signs of Valley Fever include cough, fever, lack of appetite, and more. In the primary stage, the disease is confined to the lungs. But later on, it can disseminate and spread to other parts of the body.

While 90% of the dogs recover quickly, few others can develop complications, including seizures, blindness, brain swelling, etc. A small percentage can die from these.

Even if you don’t live in or around the Valley Fever endemic area, should you plan to visit or vacation in one of the affected states (mentioned at the outset of this article), take precautionary measures to protect your dog’s health. Do what you can to reduce your pet’s exposure to soils and airborne dust. For example, keep your dog indoors as much as is practical and leash-walk him on paved sidewalks.

In the unfortunate event your dog is feeling unwell or starts showing some of the initial symptoms of Valley Fever (upon return from your trip), make sure to inform the vet of your recent travel history and ask whether a Valley Fever test should be administered. Early detection and intervention can help control your dog’s symptoms and even save your dog’s life. Your vet will prescribe the appropriate antifungal medication(s) along with pain relief and cough suppressants.

If you suspect your dog is suffering from Valley Fever, contact Santa Cruz Pet Clinic immediately to find treatment solutions. The faster you act, the higher the odds are of your family pet surviving. You may also enjoy reading this related article:

Valley Fever in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

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