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Valley Fever in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Veterinarians.org Team

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The list of infections a dog can catch seems endless. Every good dog owner does their best to protect her furry friend from disease. However, sometimes, the fate of a dog is simply out of our hands. Disease-causing agents are everywhere and we cannot always keep them away from our dogs. One of the diseases that may creep up on even the most careful dog-owner is valley fever. 

What is Valley Fever?

Valley Fever is a fungal disease common in dry hot areas. The disease is caused by a fungus. Valley fever is also known as Coccidioidomycosis. The fungus is commonly found in the soil in hot desert areas. In the United States, valley fever is endemic to hot states like Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Texas, and California. Outside the United States, dogs in hot countries such as Mexico also stand a higher chance of catching Valley Fever. 

Causes of Valley Fever

The disease is caused by two related fungi:

  • Coccidioides immitis
  • Coccidioides posadasii

The fungi thrive in desert areas where they are mostly found in the dust. When dogs go digging around in the dirt, they may inhale the spores of the fungi causing them to acquire the infection. Once the spores are inhaled, they develop into spherules, microscopic structures that contain several other endospores (spores that can reproduce). The endospores are released and also develop into spherules and the cycle continues. As this process continues, the infection develops and gets worse. 

How is Valley Fever Spread?

Dogs catch Valley Fever by digging in dusty areas where the spores of the fungus reside. When the spores are inhaled, they multiply in the body resulting in an infection. The disease cannot spread from one dog to another or from a dog to a human being. It can only be caught from inhaling the spores of the fungus. Human beings can also acquire the disease from construction sites and archeological digs. The disease initially affects the lungs but can spread to other organs like the bones and spine, a condition known as disseminated valley fever. Since the fungus is favored by hot weather, it is more likely to spread in the summer months. 

Signs and Symptoms of Valley Fever

  • Fever. Increasing body temperature is one of the first responses to infection. Dogs with valley fever tend to catch a fever with temperatures rising up to 1030F and higher. 
  • Coughing. Since the disease affects the lungs, a cough is expected to develop during infection. The cough is very similar to kennel cough and can often be misdiagnosed. The cough is usually very dry and harsh. 
  • Lethargy. Your dog’s energy levels are very likely to dip during a valley fever infection. She may be less willing to play and sleep more often and for longer hours. 
  • Loss of appetite. With increasing discomfort during sickness, your dog may lose her appetite. 
  • Weight loss. If a dog is not eating enough for a while due to reduced appetite or vomiting, she will certainly lose some weight.
  • Lameness. Valley fever can spread to other organs and the bones are one of the first to get affected after the lungs. The dog will suffer increased pain and swelling at the joints which result in a limp or lameness. 
  • Seizures and back or neck pain. The central nervous system is one of the systems affected by valley fever. When the disease finds its way into the spinal column, it can cause pain in the back and neck area. 
  • Diarrhea. The gut may also be attacked by the fungus resulting in signs and symptoms like diarrhea. 
  • Skin ulcers. Dogs with severe valley fever may develop swellings under the skin that when scratched can become wounds. The swellings and wounds are usually located on the chin, in front of the shoulder blades, or behind the dog’s knees. The wounds start to release a yellow-reddish fluid if left untreated. 
  • Swollen lymph nodes. During an infection, lymph nodes tend to swell as the breakdown of white blood cells increases during an immune response.
  • Eye inflammation. 

Why does Valley Fever Cause Dogs to Limp?

When valley fever is allowed to spread, it becomes disseminated in the body. Some of the organs it can disseminate to include the bones, eyes, skin, and the central nervous system. The bones are the most likely organ to be affected by the fungus after the lungs. After the bone enters the bones, it causes an infection which may be accompanied by signs and symptoms like inflammation resulting in pain. After the infection takes hold in the bones, it causes limping and other signs like swelling around the joints. 

Diagnosis of Valley Fever  

Since the signs and symptoms of valley fever are very similar to those of other diseases, a number of tests have to be carried out to confirm its presence. The tests your vet may have to carry out include a blood test, chest x-ray, urinalysis among others. In advanced stages, your vet may also take tissue samples to see if the fungus has spread to other organs. Your vet may not have to perform all these tests if you describe very specific symptoms and you live or have visited a dry hot area. For this reason, you should always mention to your vet if you have recently visited one of the areas that harbor the fungus. The test that confirms valley fever in a dog is known as a cocci test. The test tests for the presence of antibodies against the disease in the blood. During the cocci test, your vet will test for something known as a titer level, in other words, the number of antibodies present. The higher the titer level, the more advanced the disease is in the dog. Your dog may have to be tested again for the presence and severity of valley fever depending on how she progresses with treatment.

Treatment of Valley Fever

The treatment process can be tiring and expensive. Since it is a fungal disease, your dog will have to go on antifungal treatment. Antifungal therapy in particular is the most costly part of treatment. Three common antifungal drugs are used for valley fever: fluconazole, ketoconazole, and itraconazole. Of the three, fluconazole is the most costly and can run you up to $20 a pill. However, it also shows the best results in most dogs. The cost of treatment is a significant concern because it is a long-term process. Most dogs require treatment for up to a year. In some cases, a dog may need the pills for life. Similar to any disease, early diagnosis and treatment will make the recovery process shorter and less painful for your dog. 

How to help Your Dog with Valley Fever

The best way to help your dog in any situation is to see a vet as soon as possible. In its advanced stages, the disease is very gruesome to a dog as it enters other organs and systems. To minimize the pain your poor dog has to go through, seek treatment as early as possible. Closely follow the vet’s instructions on how to aid recovery in your dog. Do not skip medication for any reason. Valley Fever relapses are not uncommon in dogs so make sure to complete the dosage according to instructions to prevent this. If you abide by your vet’s instructions, your dog should be able to make a full recovery even if it may take a while. If caught late, valley fever can sadly be fatal especially if it has already spread to other organs. 

Prevention of Valley Fever

It is very difficult to control your dog’s chances of getting valley fever. The fungus is found in the ground and if your dog likes to dig, she has a high risk of getting it. However, if you live in one of the areas where the disease is endemic, you may have to actively try to protect your dog from infection especially in the summer months. Some of the ways you can lower your dog’s risk of getting valley fever include:

  • Avoid spending time with your dog in dusty non-landscaped areas. Try to stick to well-maintained parks 
  • If your dog loves to dig, do not take walks in desert areas
  • Take walks on a leash in paved areas where the bare ground is not exposed
  • If you live in a desert area, keep your dog indoors for reasonable amounts of time during the summer months.
  • If you notice any respiratory signs and symptoms in your dog, seek help immediately. 

Holistic Ways to Help Your Dog

There is no doubt that your vet knows best what to do for a sick dog. However, sometimes your dog may benefit from alternative forms of treatment. One of the many benefits of holistic approaches is that they rarely have any side effects on a dog. Since most of the approaches do not use any artificial or manufactured compounds, owners who are conscious of what their dogs consume can greatly benefit from them. Some of the holistic ways you can help your dog with valley fever include:

  • Providing a good diet rich in nutrients and low in calories. If possible, make most of your dog’s food from home. When you buy from the store, be sure to get the best quality possible.
  • Let your dog get as much exercise as possible. Physical exercise is instrumental in maintaining body health.
  • Give your dog supplements. Provide some of the nutrients that may be inadequate in the diet for example Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Spend as much time with your dog. Assure her that she is loved and cared for.
  • Use natural supplements. Herbs can boost her immunity and health in general.

Always remember, holistic treatments are not replacements for modern medicine but rather an addition. The science on holistic approaches is inconclusive therefore they cannot on their own qualify as a treatment for any disease. 

Our Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Valley Fever in dogs is largely dependent on the quality of treatment of the dog. Some dogs may recover completely within a matter of months without experiencing severe symptoms. On the other hand, some dogs may go through a gruesome experience and eventually die from the disease. Dog owners living in desert areas like California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Utah should be very careful about letting their dogs dig in dusty areas, especially in the summer months. Early treatment is key to recovery. Following the vet’s instructions is equally as important. If both of these two conditions are met, there should be no issue with recovery. However, if treatment is started late or is done poorly, the chances of recovery reduce. One’s dog may even die with valley fever if the treatment is not taken seriously. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Does Valley Fever cause pain in dogs?

Yes, valley fever in dogs can cause pain varying from slight discomfort to unbearable pain. If caught early enough, the treatment may prevent the disease from progressing to such advanced levels. 

How Long Does Valley Fever last in dogs?

The time valley fever lasts in dogs depends on the severity of the disease and the quality of treatment a dog is getting. The disease usually resolves within a year if treated well and early. However, it can last much longer and relapses are very possible. 

Can valley fever kill a dog?

Yes, unfortunately, a dog can die from valley fever. If treatment is delayed and the disease spreads to the rest of the body, a dog can die from the disease. 

What are early signs of valley fever in dogs?

Some of the early signs of valley fever include coughing, high temperature, lack of appetite, lethargy, and limping.  

Where do dogs get Valley Fever from?

The fungus that causes Valley Fever resides in dusty areas in dry hot areas. Dogs that love digging in such areas are very likely to catch the disease.