Here's What Every Pet Parent Needs to Know About Valley Fever in Dogs
As a loving dog owner, you're probably well aware of the different ailments that can potentially affect your pet's health. But recently, dog parents in the southwestern region of the U.S. have another condition to be on the lookout for called valley fever. We talked to a veterinarian to find out everything pet parents should know about valley fever in dogs, including how it's contracted, whether it's contagious, how to help prevent it, and what the best treatment options are in case your precious pup does contract the disease.
What is Valley Fever in Dogs?
Also referred to as desert rheumatism, valley fever in dogs is caused by the coccidioides fungus.
"This disease is spread by breathing in the spores which are endemic to a large portion of the southwestern United States and Northern Mexico," explains Evelyn Kass, DVM, a veterinarian based in Phoenix, Ariz.
Medically, valley fever is referred to as coccidioidomycosis, or more simply, "cocci." The coccidioides infection was nicknamed valley fever because it was discovered in the San Joaquin Valley of California, notes the University of Arizona Health Sciences.
How Do Dogs Get Valley Fever?
Valley fever is spread directly from the soil. When the soil is disturbed, it releases the fungus into the air where it can then be inhaled by your dog.
"We often see an uptick in infections in areas of construction, especially where new home developments are being built or road expansion is done," Kass notes. "Of course, dust storms have a big impact, and rain can further stimulate the growth of the fungus. Dogs that like to dig in the desert will be exposed more, as well."
Is Valley Fever Contagious in Dogs?
Experts say that valley fever is not contagious from one animal to another. Instead, the fungal infection is spread directly from the soil. Humans, dogs, and cats can all get valley fever by inhaling the released spores.
Where is Valley Fever Found?
Valley fever primarily affects the southwestern region of the country, and Kass says that Arizona and California appear to be hot spots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that valley fever has also been found in south-central Washington state, and that it may also exist in climates that are similarly hot and dry. Kass adds, "Infection seems to peak June to September, with a second peak sometimes seen in the fall."
What Are Valley Fever Symptoms in Dogs?
Dogs that've been exposed to the coccidioides fungus will generally start showing symptoms three weeks later. According to the University of Arizona, some of the common, early signs of primary valley fever in dogs include:
"Most dogs will fight off the infection at this point, but in some dogs the fungus can disseminate, or spread, to any part of the body or organ," Kass notes. (This is referred to as disseminated valley fever.) She adds, "Symptoms depend on the location of the organism. Fever, lameness, and cough are common signs, but seizures, heart disease, and skin abscesses can also occur."
Other symptoms may include an oozing sore, swollen lymph nodes, eye inflammation, and pain. Both primary and disseminated valley fever can be dangerous to your dog's well-being. It's important to see a veterinarian immediately if you suspect your dog may be infected.
How to Treat Valley Fever in Dogs
Fortunately, the valley fever in dogs survival rate is over 90 percent, according to the University of Arizona. Traditional treatment for canine valley fever is an anti-fungal medication—such as fluconazole, itraconazole, and ketoconazole—which helps eliminate the fungus from your dog's body.
"These medications are typically very effective, but often need to be given for years to prevent recurrence of signs," Kass explains. This treatment period often lasts six to 12 months but can sometimes become life-long.
In addition to treating the fungus, your veterinarian may administer fluids, anti-inflammatory medications, pain relievers, or nutritional supplementation to treat the symptoms of valley fever.
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Preventing Valley Fever in Dogs
The best way to prevent your dog from getting valley fever is to reduce their exposure to airborne dust. That means keeping your pet inside during dust storms and when it's raining, keeping them on paved sidewalks versus dirt when possible, redirecting their attention when they want to dig, and keeping grass (or faux grass) in the yard.
Though there is some promising evidence from a recent University of Arizona vaccine trial that gives hope for a valley fever vaccine for dogs soon, Kass stresses the importance of taking preventative measures to protect your pet as best you can now.
"While vaccine research has been ongoing for decades, there is still no available vaccine for valley fever," Kass adds.
Bolstering their immune system naturally can help. Provide your dog with a nutritionally balanced diet and plenty of water. Exercise, mental stimulation, and loving snuggles can also go a long way to support your pet's overall health.