Valley Fever Symptoms in Dogs
What owners of dogs living in the desert Southwest should know
We learned about 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. Since he was putting weight on it and playing normally, I thought to give it a couple of days. The following day he 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 my veterinarian.
The veterinarian performed a physical 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 me 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. He highly suspected therefore a case of " Disseminated Coccidiomycosis" better known as "Valley Fever". He told me that while this was likely the scenario, this yet had to be confirmed by some blood tests. He also kindly told me that 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, simple digging and playing in the sand is sufficient to inhale the dangerous spores. Kaiser was sure an avid digger. He used to play all 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, 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.
Symptoms of Valley Fever in Dogs
Most cases of Valley Fever are limited to the 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 progressed over the days.
Symptoms of Valley Fever in Dogs
Lameness (when spreading to the bones)
Seizures (when spreading to the brain)
Diagnosis and Treatment for Dog Valley Fever
A few days later, the vet called with the blood work results. He confirmed that his blood work came 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: each pill can cost up to 20 dollars! He 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 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. 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.