Symptoms of Valley Fever in Dogs
What owners of dogs living in the desert Southwest should know
We learned about the symptoms of Valley Fever in dogs the first months we started living in Arizona. It all happened one morning when our 5-month-old puppy Kaiser, woke up and started to limp. Not much concerned, we thought his foot perhaps had fallen asleep or perhaps he was a bit sore from sleeping on it.
The limping seemed to subside for a week, but then it came back with a vengeance. Since he still was putting weight on his leg and playing normally, I thought to give it a couple of days, assuming it was a sprain. The following day though Kaiser was reluctant to get up, appeared sluggish and suddenly developed a cough as well. Very concerned at this point ,and baffled by the odd symptoms, we took him to see the vet.
The veterinarian performed a careful physical exam and checked for any broken bones in his paw. He also listened to his lungs. Afterward, he decided to take an x-ray of his foot and of his chest. After what felt to be an hour, he came back with a serious look in his face. I had that cold feeling that something was seriously 'wrong.'
"His foot has some deformities, you see how the digits of his fingers are slightly crooked?" he said pointing out some obvious deformities in the lit-up x-ray in the dark room. Then he took the chest x-ray and showed some clouded areas denoting inflammation of the lungs.
Puzzled by these odd symptoms, I knew this was not any more a case of growing pains with a touch of kennel cough. The vet highly suspected therefore a case of "Disseminated Coccidiomycosis" a fungal condition better known as "Valley Fever."
The vet added that while this was likely the scenario, this yet had to be confirmed by some blood tests. He also kindly told me that if this was really Valley Fever the treatment was going to be very costly. Thank God I had just enrolled Kaiser in a pet insurance plan! I had many questions in my mind, but I conducted further research on my own.
What is Valley Fever in Dogs?
Valley fever is a disease of the dusty areas of the Southwestern United States and Mexico. It is caused by a fungus whose spores are spread by the air. Upon inhaling dust, these spores transform into a broader multi-cellular structure called a spherule which will develop endospores that will turn into spherules again, repeating the cycle over and over again.
The spores are mostly released when the terrain is disturbed. This is why among humans, construction workers, archaeologists, and utility workers are mostly affected.
In dogs, on the other hand, simple digging and playing in the sand is sufficient to inhale the dangerous spores. Kaiser was sure an avid digger. He used to play for a good part of the day in the sand and roll in it. Little did I know upon moving to Arizona about this dangerous disease!
And to make things worse, my whole yard was recently cleared from trees and bushes with a backhoe by a landscaping company, further disturbing the soil.
Yet, my vet said I could not blame myself, because the spores are also transported by winds and the so popular "dust devils" so common here in Arizona in the summer months.
Infection is most likely to occur in the summer months when hot, dry conditions favor inhalation of arthroconidia (a type of fungal spore) spread by wind or physical disturbance of infected soil. In the United States, the endemic area for coccidioides immitis includes parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.— Alice M. Wolf, Gregory C. Troy
Symptoms of Valley Fever in Dogs
The symptoms of Valley Fever in dogs generally arise within one to three weeks following exposure. The early signs might not be noticeable at first.
Most cases of Valley Fever are self- limited and mostly confined to the dog's lungs, but in dogs this disease may easily spread to other locations causing the "disseminated" form of this disease.
In Kaiser's case, the disease spread from his lungs to his bones affecting his foot and causing the visible limping that had progressed over the days.
Symptoms of Valley Fever in Dogs
Lameness (when spreading to the bones)
Seizures (when spreading to the brain)
Symptoms of Valley Fever in Dogs are no Fun!
Diagnosis and Treatment for Dog Valley Fever
A few days later, the vet called with the bloodwork results. He confirmed that his bloodwork came indeed back positive for coccidiomycosis. However, his titer level was four, fortunately suggesting a mild form of Valley Fever.
My dog was put on an antifungal medicine called flucanazole. This was the expensive part of the treatment: each pill of flucanazole can cost up to 20 dollars! The vet told me he could be put on Ketocanazole or Itraconazole but he said that Flucanazole had the least side effects and worked best.
I was determined to allow my dog to heal well, so I bought that expensive bottle of Flucanazole. Later, I found a great compounding pharmacy that sold me a 60 day supply of Flucanazole for less that 25.00 dollars!
Kaiser was kept on Fluconazole for the next six months. The vet told me that in some cases, dogs may need the medication for life. My dog though had improved greatly since the first week on the antifungal medicine.
If you see him today, he acts and looks like a normal dog. He yet has to have his last blood test in a few weeks though. The results should determine if he must continue the medicine or stop it all together. I am hoping for the best.
So, if you should move to any desert areas of the great Southwest such as Arizona, Texas, New Mexico or California, please do not underestimate this disease. While in most cases, dogs may develop only a mild fever and cough, in some cases the disease may turn deadly if treatment is not sought in time. Also be aware of the symptoms that can happen in humans too!
While there is not much you can do to prevent this disease, you can take action quickly should your dog develop typical symptoms suggesting Valley Fever. In general, the quicker the diagnosis, the better the prognosis.
Vet Talks About Valley Fever in Dogs
Questions & Answers
Can I still breed my female after she’s had valley fever?
The most commonly prescribed medication for dogs with Valley Fever is drug known as fluconazole. Fluconazole should not be given to pregnant or nursing dogs or to a dog that you plan to breed. Your dog should have a titer test done to ensure she no longer has Valley Fever. The titer test measures how many antibodies your dog is making against the fungus. At that appointment, based on the results, you can then ask your vet whether it's OK to breed her or wait for another titer test to make sure she is in the clear.
Where can I get Fluconazole for less than $25.00?
It may be cheaper if you get if from a compounding pharmacy. Foothills Compounding Pharmacy or Diamondback Pharmacy may offer a cheaper option. It may be worth it calling to ask. Dr. Foster's and Smith at present time sells Fluconazole at the price of $1.59 for a 50mg pill.
© 2008 Adrienne Janet Farricelli