The Definition of Valley Fever in Dogs
Valley fever in dogs is a mostly unknown condition in Europe, as it is a disease that occurs primarily in certain parts of America – named after the valleys where you often find it. The proper name for canine valley fever is coccidioidomycosis which occurs when infection by the fungus Coccidiodes immitis occurs.
But what are valley fever symptoms in dogs, and how do you treat it? Keep reading to learn more!
Signs and Symptoms of Canine Valley Fever
Valley fever is common in humans but is also present in some cases in cattle, horses, tigers, and even some marine mammals. Dogs seem even more susceptible than most, possibly due to sniffing the ground and thereby inhaling fungus spores in large quantities.
Once inside the lungs, the valley fever fungus spores will develop into spherules. In a healthy dog, these shouldn’t cause too much trouble, as the immune system will destroy the spherules by walling them off. In these cases, the valley fever symptoms will often be mild, and some owners may not even notice it.
However, the spherule can keep growing due to other comorbidities if the dog suffers from a weak immune system. Eventually, they will burst and release more spores that can spread throughout the lungs and into the body—starting a horrible cycle within the dog.
The primary symptoms of valley fever in dogs often center around the lungs. Symptoms in these cases will usually include a dry cough, a fever, hyporexia (lack of appetite), and being lethargic (tired).
When the fungus spreads, it becomes disseminated. Here especially, joints tend to get affected, which is why valley fever in dogs appears limbing and lameness in some cases. In severe cases, it can also occur as valley fever skin lesions on the dog.
The Valley Fever Survival Rate in Dogs
A young and healthy dog is unlikely to pass away due to valley fever. As mentioned, the immune system will control and limit the spread of the fungus. However, a very young or old dog or a dog with a compromised immune system may experience severe disease and can, in some cases, die due to fungus or secondary infections.
However, once treated appropriately, most dogs will recover from the illness. If you suspect your dog may suffer from valley fever, you should contact your veterinary care provider immediately.
How Do Vets Test for Canine Valley Fever?
Suppose you live in an area where valley fever; your veterinarian is probably familiar with the condition. If your dog shows classic valley fever symptoms, your veterinarian will likely perform a thorough clinical exam and recommend diagnostic testing.
Luckily, a specific valley fever test for dogs exists and is a titer test. The titer test determines whether your dog has valley fever antibodies. Antibodies are small immune proteins showing an earlier exposure to the fungus.
If your dog displays severe symptoms, your vet may also recommend additional testing, including blood tests and x-rays.
Even if you don’t live in an area where valley fever is prevalent, it is crucial to inform your veterinarian if you have traveled to an area where the fungus exists.
How it’s Treated
If your dog is exposed to the fungus and displays symptoms, there are, luckily, valley fever treatment options available for your veterinarian to help your dog. Currently, the most common treatment is lengthy treatment with anti-fungal medication.
Most commonly, the anti-fungal medication prescribed is either ketoconazole, itraconazole, or fluconazole for dogs. Treatment is prolonged, but most dogs should feel better within 1-2 weeks after initial treatment.
Some supportive care may be necessary depending on the infection’s severity, including intravenous fluid, oxygen therapy, and anti-inflammatory support.
The anti-fungal medication also carries some side effects that may need managing with additional support, including anti-nausea medication and medication to increase appetite. Periodic blood tests will, in most cases, also be necessary to monitor liver function and comorbidities that can arise.
Is Valley Fever in Dogs Contagious?
Valley fever is not contagious. Even when coughing, spores cannot spread between animals or people. Even with multiple afflicted animals in a household, it is not likely to spread to other individuals as the primary infection pathway occurs when inhaling spores from the soil.
How do Dogs Get Valley Fever?
As dogs walk around in the dry areas where the coccidiosis fungus lives, they sniff the ground as dogs do. The fungi thrive in the soil, and especially the spores are quickly whirled around with the dusty air. As dogs sniff, they quickly inhale large quantities of the spores, which then cause valley fever disease.
It is important to remember that roughly 70% of dogs that inhale the spores never show any Valley Fever symptoms and may even become immune to the disease afterward. However, some dogs will become sick, which is why it is essential to keep an eye out for symptoms if you have been traveling in an area known to have valley fever.
Where in the USA is Valley Fever Found?
Dogs mostly contract valley fever in the dry regions of the USA, including the low desert regions of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the central area of California. Remember that both humans and dogs can contract the disease, so it is vital to keep an eye out for you and your dog if you travel to any of these regions!
Other Species Susceptible to Valley Fever
Infection with fungus spores can occur in almost any mammal and even some fish, although rare. Some animals, like cattle, often stay asymptomatic – meaning they show no symptoms of infection. Other animals that can catch Valley Fever include llamas and alpacas, as well as horses and humans.
Apes and monkeys are very susceptible to Valley Fever, why these often receive treatment preventively if they live in zoos in an area known to have the fungus.
Although more, rare cats can also become infected with Valley Fever. In cats, the most common symptom of the disease is skin lesions. They rarely cough or display lameness but can show abscess-looking lesions that often ooze a pale yellow or red fluid. Diagnosis and treatment of Valley Fever in cats are often similar to the process in dogs.
How to Prevent it
Obviously, the best way to prevent a Valley Fever infection is to keep your dog away from areas where the fungi are known to be present. However, that advice is unhelpful for anyone who lives in the area or needs to travel there. Or those of us who love to explore the world with our best friend at our side.
Preventing Valley Fever is difficult, but there are some things you can do to keep your best friends from getting infected. The best thing you can do is to keep away from areas with a lot of dry soil; simply putting them on a leash and keeping them close to you can prevent your dog from inhaling too many spores.
Also, if you can, avoid kicking up too much dust. Preventing excessive amounts of dust can benefit both you and your four-legged friend!
Lastly, keep an eye out for symptoms. Early diagnosis and initial treatment is the best way to ensure the disease does not progress into a more severe condition.
Also, there is good news for owners who would love to travel the dry valleys of Arizona! Currently, a vaccine is being tested, which may prove sufficient for protecting our furry friends from the dreaded Valley Fever. The newest studies show that vaccinated dogs showed little to no symptoms after infection when treated with the vaccine! Read our article and find out more about DHPP Vaccine.
Prognosis and Recovery
Not all infected dogs show symptoms of Valley Fever once infected with the Coccidiodes fungus; roughly 70% of infected dogs stay asymptomatic. But if your dog does, the best way to improve the prognosis is to seek veterinary care as early as possible. If the fungus becomes disseminated, the prognosis will inevitably worsen.
Nonetheless, no matter the stage of the disease, there are treatment options available that will hopefully get your dog back out and exploring in no time!
The Word’s Out!
We all love to explore the world with our best friends, and hiking through the beautiful valleys is no exception. There is, however, a sinister little foe present in the idyllic areas that can affect our dogs and even us.
You should not ignore the dangers of Valley Fever, but if you keep an eye out for symptoms and seek veterinary care if symptoms appear, you should be fine to keep living in and loving the dusty southern valleys!
Catharina is a Veterinary Medicine student from Uni of Copenhagen. When she isn’t making camp in the library, stuck to the books, she’s also a writer and avid photographer. Capturing everything from buildings to dogs – especially her poodle Bailey is a frequent subject.