ASK A VET: What do I need to know about Valley Fever?

Dog running in the Arizona Desert

Valley Fever, or Coccidiomycosis, is a fungal infection that invades humans as well as our four-legged friends, and it can be especially dangerous for dogs. Since the fungal spores that cause Valley Fever live in Arizona’s dust and dirt, it’s a serious issue for Phoenix pet owners with the highest rate of infections happening in June and July.

Symptoms of a Valley Fever infection can range from a harsh cough and lethargy to seizures and even death in those with weakened or underdeveloped immune systems. However, if caught early, it is treatable with proper vet intervention. It’s important to familiarize yourself with signs and symptoms.

Valley Fever is extremely hard to prevent as the spores are just about everywhere in Phoenix (in fact, many humans are infected without showing any symptoms). It can also be difficult to pinpoint as symptoms don’t typically occur until a few weeks after infection and have a wide range of severity.

When dry desert dirt is stirred up, be it due to wind or construction, the spores become airborne and can go pretty much anywhere. Dogs can also sniff up spores when digging around, or simply inhaling the dust and dirt that naturally invades our outdoor spaces.

Once the spores are inside the body they can travel wherever they please. There are two main types of Valley Fever: Primary Disease, in which the infection is limited to the lungs, and Disseminated Disease, meaning the fungus has spread to other parts of the body.

The Primary type causes a dry, hacking cough, fever, lack of energy and appetite, swollen lymph nodes. As the infection progresses, it can develop into pneumonia that is visible on X-rays.

The symptoms of a Disseminated Valley Fever infection will depend on what tissues the organism invades. For example; if it gets into the central nervous system then your dog may suffer seizures. If it infects the bone, painful swelling of the bone occurs, commonly in the legs.

It’s also possible for pets to ingest spores if they eat something off the ground, which can affect the intestines. Symptoms of an intestine infection include vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss may. Additional symptoms of Disseminated Valley Fever include back or neck pain, non-healing skin wounds, eye inflammation or cloudiness.

If your dog is showing any these symptoms, take him to your veterinarian immediately for diagnostic testing. Lung x-rays and blood test to check your dog titer levels are typically performed to determine the presence of Valley Fever antibodies. If diagnosed, your veterinarian will prescribe fluconazole to help eradicate the fungus from the body. However, fluconazole alone will not directly kill the organism like a fungicide would, and treatment works best in dogs with otherwise healthy immune systems.

Regularly keeping your dog’s health in check with a nutritious diet, plenty of exercise and minimal stress before an infection occurs is the best way to help fight off these fungal invaders!

Dr. Julie Mayer

Dr. Julie Mayer, DVM, specializes in integrative veterinary medicine and canine physical rehabilitation, including an underwater treadmill! Conveniently located in central Phoenix.


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