As pet owners, we know how our fur babies love to explore, and they typically let their nose lead the way as they rummage through new environments. Unfortunately, this tendency may cause adventurous dogs to pick up a fungal infection called coccidioidomycosis, better known among non-veterinarians as valley fever.
Since valley fever can present serious risks and complications for animals, you might want to acquaint yourself with its causes, effects, and symptoms, as well as veterinary diagnostic and treatment options to help your ailing dog recover
What Causes Valley Fever?
Valley fever starts with a fungus called Coccidioides immitis. This fungus is usually found in arid desert climates like we have here in Arizona. However, dogs from anywhere in the country can pick up this fungus on vacations and road trips to such climates.
As a form of mold, the Coccidioides immitis fungus can lie dormant in dry soil for extended periods. When moisture arrives, the mold transforms into spore-producing filaments. A dog may inhale the spores either from sniffing the soil or by breathing spores that have gone airborne.
How Does Valley Fever Affect Dogs?
Valley fever can affect dogs to varying degrees of severity. Many otherwise-healthy dogs experience few or no significant symptoms from the fungal infection. However, geriatric dogs, puppies, and dogs with impaired immune systems can go on to develop serious issues.
Primary valley fever confines itself to the dog’s lungs, where they transform again into objects known as spherules. Normally, the immune system can control these spherules by limiting their further growth. Symptoms at this stage, if they appear at all, may include a fever, dry cough, weight loss, and loss of energy or appetite.
If the dog’s immune system cannot contain the growth of the spherules, the growing spherules may burst, releasing spores into other parts of the body. We call this stage disseminated valley fever. Your dog may then experience severe joint pain, lameness, and potential neurological symptoms such as seizures.
What Diagnostic Procedures Can Identify a Case of Valley Fever?
If your dog displays the symptoms listed above after spending time in a desert region that hosts Coccidioides immitis, be sure to let us know when you bring your dog in for evaluation. The veterinarian can run a blood test known as a titer test to see whether the dog’s immune system has created antibodies against the fungus.
Other diagnostic tests can help confirm the valley fever diagnosis and reveal the extent of the disease in your dog. In addition to broader blood testing procedures, your veterinarian may administer X-rays to look for signs of the infection in the animal’s bones and bones.
How Do Veterinarians Treat Valley Fever in Dogs?
As a general rule, veterinarians treat valley fever with antifungal drugs such as ketoconazole, itraconazole, and fluconazole. Certain symptoms may also call for other forms of care, from nutritional support for dogs who have lost their appetite to anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers to ease joint discomfort.
Antifungal treatment for valley fever does not achieve instant results. You can expect your dog’s course of antifungal treatment to last from six to 12 months or longer. Dogs with severe infections and weak immune systems may need to stay on the medications indefinitely. Thankfully, affected dogs enjoy a high survival rate.
We at 1st Pet Veterinary Centers will be happy to answer any further questions and address any concerns you may have about your dog’s health. If your best friend shows symptoms of valley fever or any other infectious illness, contact us immediately to schedule diagnosis and treatment. We are here to help.