Valley Fever is most common in California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas. It is a fungal infection that primarily affects the lungs and can lead to symptoms such as swollen joints, lameness, a severe cough, and ulcers. If caught late, it can be fatal. Today, our San Gabriel vets share symptoms of Valley Fever and how to prevent your dog from getting it.
What is Valley Fever?
Valley fever is a fungus-borne disease caused by the Coccidioides fungus. This fungus grows in soil and dirt in parts of California and the southwestern United States. It infects the lungs and causes respiratory symptoms like coughing, difficulty breathing, fever, and tiredness or fatigue.
The fungus can spread to other body parts and cause other severe diseases. Valley fever can be serious and even fatal, with 80 deaths and over 1,000 hospitalizations in California annually.
Why are dogs susceptible to Valley Fever?
Valley fever is caused by inhaling dust from outdoor air that contains spores of the soil-growing fungus Coccidioides. Dust containing these fungus spores can enter the air when soil or dirt is stirred up by strong winds or while digging. A who lives or travels in an area where the fungus grows is at risk of becoming infected.
Dogs are very susceptible to Valley Fever because they sniff the ground and dig in the dirt. This has the potential of causing them to inhale large numbers of spores at a time.
If there is one piece of good news, it's that Valley Fever is not contagious, which means it cannot be passed from person to person or animal to person or animal to animal.
What are the symptoms of Valley Fever?
Some of the more common symptoms of Valley Fever include
- difficulty breathing
- muscle and/or joint pain
- weight loss
In some rare cases, Valley Fever may cause severe infections in the lungs or other parts of the body. This is called a disseminated disease.
For these cases, your dog may need to be hospitalized and will likely need follow-up medical care. How long this extended care will be needed will depend on the severity of the infection.
It is even possible for Valley Fever to spread to the brain, which will likely require lifelong treatment. In some very rare cases, Valley Fever can even be fatal.
How can I prevent Valley Fever in my dog?
There is currently no sure way to prevent Valley Fever in dogs other than never living in or traveling through areas where the fungus grows. However, there are some common-sense steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of your dog's exposure to the fungus.
Avoid activities that produce dust, limit your dog's digging, prevent sniffing in rodent holes, and keep your dogs indoors more than outdoors. Further, yard ground cover that reduces dust, such as grass and deep gravel, is beneficial.
How does a veterinarian diagnose Valley Fever?
If your dog exhibits symptoms consistent with Valley Fever, your veterinarian will recommend diagnostic testing. They will likely perform a titer test to determine whether your dog has Valley Fever antibodies.
Your veterinarian may also recommend additional blood tests and diagnostic X-rays of the chest and any affected legs, depending on the severity of the illness. The fungus can also be detected through microscopic examination of fluid or infected tissue samples.
Furthermore, if your dog has spent any time in an area where this disease is prevalent, it is critical to inform your veterinarian of this travel history.
How does a veterinarian treat Valley Fever?
Valley fever requires a course of antifungal medication that can last anywhere from 6 to 12 months. Dogs usually start feeling better within 1-2 weeks of starting treatment.
These medications' most common side effects are vomiting and loss of appetite. Periodic blood tests may be recommended to monitor liver function.
Other supportive care, such as hospitalization for intravenous fluids or oxygen therapy, management of congestive heart failure, and surgery to relieve pain, may be required depending on the location of the infection.