Valley Fever In Dogs
Many pet owners bring their pups along on all their outdoor adventures.
Desert regions are known for having stunning landscapes, offering a wonderful backdrop for exploration.
While there is nothing better than spending time outdoors with your dog, there are a few risks that come along with exploring these types of landscapes.
Valley fever is known to run rampant in desert regions across Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and California.
This fungus can easily be inhaled by your pup, leading to an array of complicated symptoms to follow.
In this article we will discuss the details you need to know about valley fever in dogs, and educate you on the best ways to respond to this serious condition.
What Is Valley Fever In Dogs?
Valley fever is a fungal illness that dogs can come in contact with during time spent outdoors.
This fungus is known for thriving in dry conditions, making this threat most common in the lower desert regions across the country.
From the moment these fungal spores are inhaled by your dog, these agents can begin to wreak havoc on your dog’s immune system.
What Causes Valley Fever In Dogs?
The agent responsible for valley fever in dogs is a fungus known as Coccidioides immitis.
This fungus grows in the soil in dry climates, maturing into delicate strands of cells throughout their life cycle.
These strands of cells are so fragile that when the soil is disturbed by a passing pup, the strands break into tiny spores that fill the surrounding air.
Dogs will then inhale these spores as they sniff the ground, introducing these particles to the respiratory tract.
Thankfully for our furry friends, only about 30% of dogs that inhale the fungus will actually become sick.
Even if these spores do successfully make it to the lungs, many dogs will have a strong enough immune system to destroy them.
However, if the immune system does not destroy the growing spores, the dog will develop valley fever.
Where Is Valley Fever Most Common?
Valley fever is most commonly found in desert climates in the lower region of the US.
The states that report the most cases of valley fever include:
- New Mexico
Valley fever is also most common during dry seasons, as this allows the spores to be easily agitated with each passing human or animal.
Since valley fever is not as common in areas outside of the regions stated above, it’s important to let your vet know when you have visited these areas with your pup.
Because valley fever is not as prevalent in other parts of the country, some veterinarians will not consider the possibility when symptoms develop in your dog.
By letting them know you have recently taken your pup to a desert climate, this can help them put the pieces together.
How Do Dogs Get Valley Fever?
Dogs will become infected with valley fever when they inhale C. immitis spores during their time spent in infected regions.
These spores can be sent into the air anytime the soil is disturbed, which can easily occur at multiple points throughout a dog’s outdoor adventure.
Spores can infect a dog when they walk through the soil, lick their paws after stepping in soil, and even by sniffing the ground throughout their walk.
It’s also important to note that valley fever can infect humans as well, so humans have just as high of a risk as pets do when it comes to catching this infectious fungus.
Valley Fever Symptoms In Dogs
As we mentioned above, sometimes the dog’s immune system will fight off the growing spores in the lungs before they have the chance to release additional spores.
These dogs may not display any visible symptoms, or their illness may be incredibly mild until the fungus is eradicated completely.
However, if the dog is compromised in any way, their body may be unable to tackle the spores from the moment they enter the lungs.
These spores will eventually grow into larger structures known as spherules, which will eventually release hundreds of tiny spores throughout the lungs once they mature.
When this happens, dogs will often begin to display the initial symptoms of valley fever.
Some of the first signs of valley fever in dogs include:
- Cough, often harsh or dry
The first stage of valley fever is typically limited to the lungs, and will range in severity from case to case.
These symptoms often develop about a month after initial exposure, leading to what is known as the primary disease.
Once the infection has spread to other parts of the body, it is then known as the disseminated disease.
The disseminated disease stage of valley fever refers to the disease when it spreads to parts of the body outside of the lungs.
This can lead to a systemic infection in dogs, impacting virtually every body system.
Some of the most common signs of disseminated valley fever include:
- Weight loss
- Back and neck pain
- Swelling of the limbs
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle tremors
- Chronic skin infections
Disseminated valley fever is typically more severe than primary valley fever, and will have a more guarded prognosis as a result.
It’s important to note that some dogs can skip the first stage of the disease altogether, never experiencing any lung involvement at any point.
Every case of valley fever can vary greatly depending on your dog’s situation.
Diagnosing Valley Fever In Dogs
Proper diagnosis of valley fever in dogs typically requires a few different actions.
First, your vet must be suspicious of the disease due to your dog’s previous exposure.
This is why it is important to let your vet know that your dog has been in the dry regions we mentioned above, as this can help them make an educated diagnosis.
Next, your vet will gather a detailed history on your dog’s current symptoms. They will likely ask when the symptoms began and what behaviors you are noticing at home, allowing them to put together a timeframe that could connect the potential of valley fever.
While these diagnostics will not offer your vet an exact diagnosis of valley fever, they will likely suggest performing blood tests and x-rays.
Blood tests are essential in searching for evidence of systemic infections or organ failure, while x-rays will alert them to any infection developing in the lungs.
These diagnostics can also help to rule out any other medical conditions that could cause their current symptoms.
If your vet is still suspicious of valley fever after following the steps above, they can send out a sample of blood to be tested for valley fever.
This test will search for evidence of valley fever antibodies within the body, showing that your dog was exposed to the fungus at some point.
If the valley fever test is positive, the lab can then perform a titer test to measure how much antibody your dog has made against valley fever.
The levels of antibodies can help your vet determine how severe their infection is.
Treating Valley Fever In Dogs
Part of what makes valley fever such a complicated illness is the fact that it often requires a lengthy treatment.
Most dogs will need to be treated for anywhere from 6-12 months, with some requiring lifelong treatment.
This is due to the fact that the spores can continue to multiply within the body until they are eradicated completely, allowing them to keep amplifying the infection.
If your dog is in a stage of crisis when they are first seen, they may need to be offered supportive care to get them through their current complications.
For example, if your dog presents with a severe lung infection that is causing breathing difficulty, they may need to stay in the hospital on oxygen therapy.
Every case will vary, so their initial treatment plan may range as well.
Regardless of how severe your dog’s case is, all dogs will need to be treated with an antifungal medication of your vet’s choice.
Some of the most common options include Ketoconazole, Itraconazole, and Fluconazole.
Many dogs will begin to feel better within 14 days of starting the antifungal medication, but they will still need to continue treating for an extended period.
Once your dog no longer has a high titer of valley fever antibodies, your vet will inform you of when you can stop their treatment.
In addition to any supportive care that your dog requires in their state of crisis, some dogs will require additional medication to ease their symptoms as their condition resolves.
Some of the most common supportive care options include cough suppressants for those with a chronic cough, pain relief for those with joint pain, GI medications for those that lose their appetite, as well as nutritional support for those who have lost weight.
Every situation will vary, so we suggest following your vet’s guidance when they create your dog’s treatment plan.
Can You Get Valley Fever From Your Dog?
You cannot get valley fever from your dog once they are infected.
Valley fever is only acquired by inhaling spores from the environment, eliminating the possibility of this being a contagious illness.
Dogs cannot spread valley fever to their owners, and they cannot spread the illness to other pets either.
How To Prevent Valley Fever In Dogs
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent valley fever in dogs that often frequent dry and dusty regions.
While there is discussion on creating a vaccine against the potentially deadly fungus, this will likely take years to produce.
Because of this, the only way to potentially limit your dog’s exposure is by preventing them from participating in activities that generate dust.
This can include digging, diligent sniffing, and any other activity that can create a dust cloud.
Until there is a valley fever vaccine available to our pups, education on the illness is the best line of defense.
Can Dogs Recover From Valley Fever?
Most dogs that receive antifungal treatment for the suggested time period have a good prognosis.
Recovery statistics can vary with severe infections and those that did not receive adequate treatment promptly, but even those dogs respond well to treatment.
As long as you act quickly and follow your veterinarian’s guidance, you should be able to offer your dog a good chance at success.
Every case of valley fever will vary, so we suggest speaking with your veterinarian about your dog’s specific prognosis.
Valley fever is a dangerous disease that is more common than most pet owners think.
If your dog ever spends time exploring dry and dusty regions, valley fever is a condition you need to be aware of.
My name is Amber. I am a dedicated animal lover that turned my passion into my career. I am a Licensed Vet Tech with 10 years of experience in veterinary medicine, but I recently took my career online to help spread accurate information on animal care. With how vast the online world is, I have a strong desire to ensure that the reader always walks away with helpful pet advice. With the experience I’ve gained from my time in this field, I have been able to travel the world, offering my services to as many animal rescues as I can find. If I am not at my laptop, or back home visiting family, you can find me somewhere in the world, cuddling every furry friend that I can find! Read more about us here.