Pet Doctor has been receiving a ton of questions about Valley Fever disease. As Arizona makes up 2/3rds of Valley Fever cases in the United States we want to take a moment and shed some light on this increasingly relevant topic. There is a real threat to our pet’s health when it comes to Valley Fever and we want you to be up-to-date on the disease.
Valley Fever, also known by the scientific term coccidioidomycosis, is a soil-dwelling fungus prevalent in the Southwest United States, Mexico, and Central America. The University of Arizona is at the front of the pack in understanding Valley Fever. Their research has shown that a dog living in Pima and Maricopa counties has a 28% chance of contracting the disease within the first two years of their life. Here in the Southwest the fungus grows in desert soil and dries out, becoming thin, light, strands of particles which are easily disturbed and scattered into the air. There is much debate to why the disease has spread so quickly in the previous decade but one factor has been the increased periods of drought in the Southwest. Dry and dusty conditions allow the dormant fungus to be easily kicked up and inhaled by dogs who are exploring desert lands. It should be noted that humans and other animals, are at risk of contracting the disease as well. The disease does not spread via an infected animal, like the cold or flu, it can only be picked up by disturbing areas where the fungus is present. Valley Fever has shown to be partly seasonal with most new cases between the months of June-July and October-November.
The effect of Valley Fever on a pet’s health can be detrimental and long lasting. The U of A has identified risk factors of Valley Fever, knowing these and preparing against them will decrease the chances of an animal contracting the disease. They found animals with a weakened immune system was more prone to developing Valley Fever and puppies and older animals were also at an increased risk. They also found that, as opposed to common belief, living near construction sites where soil is routinely disturbed had very little effect on developing the disease. The most important risk factor for dogs was the size of the yard the animal lived on and time spent outdoors. An animal can have valley fever but not show any symptoms for long periods of time. The most common symptoms in early stages of the disease show up as pneumonia. If left untreated the fungus will spread to other organs in the animal. Lethargy, weight loss, lesions on the skin, and the breakdown of muscle/bone are common in later stages of the disease. The most advanced stage of Valley Fever infects the nervous system of the animal and becomes incredibly difficult to treat at that point.
The most common way to treat Valley Fever is with an antifungal medication. Generally, Fluconazole is prescribed to fight the fungus in tandem with other medicines that treat the symptoms caused by the fungus spreading through the body. Cough suppressants, anti-inflammatories, and nutritional support can help immensely when treating an animal. It is possible that an animal will have to stay on an antifungal medication for years.
At Pet Doctor we take a holistic approach when dealing with Valley Fever. Besides antifungal medications we have found that helping the animals immune system fight off symptoms with secondary therapies will improve the chances of recovery. Just like in humans, nutrition can play an important role in how the body reacts to fighting off the disease as well. We will usually test for the fungus by performing bloodwork that is sent to a regional testing center. In our experience we have found that X-rays also help in identifying pneumonia in the lungs and bone deterioration, which determine the plan of action. Our veterinarians are here to assist you in navigating this increasingly prevalent disease so if you are concerned for your pet’s health come see our vets and we will develop a course of action with you.