Valley fever pervades the Southwestern states, infecting people, dogs, cats, and livestock. In this blog, our veterinarians in Babcock Ranch delve into the causes, signs, and treatment of Valley Fever in pets.
Pets & Valley Fever
Coccidioidomycosis affects dogs, cats, livestock, and people, known by various names such as Valley Fever, desert rheumatism, San Joaquin Valley Fever, and California disease.
Valley Fever arises from the pathogenic fungus Coccidioides immitis, thriving in the soil, particularly in desert climates. Coccidioides immitis is prevalent in the low desert regions of New Mexico, Texas, California, and notably in Arizona within the United States.
Our Animal Hospital at Babcock vets encounter Valley Fever in both dogs and cats, with cats less frequently affected. Roughly, for every 50 dogs diagnosed with Valley Fever, our Babcock Ranch vets identify one case in cats.
Seeking veterinary assistance promptly when your pet displays signs of Valley Fever is crucial. Urgent medical care may become necessary without treatment, and the disease can prove fatal for your pet.
How Pets Contract Valley Fever
Pets develop Valley Fever by inhaling Coccidioides immitis fungal spores. When your dog or cat breathes in these spores, they transform into spherules within the pet's lungs.
A strong and healthy immune system in dogs and cats typically contains spherules, preventing the development of symptoms. This ability to 'wall off' the spherules means that the pet may have Valley Fever without showing any symptoms, a condition known as asymptomatic.
However, if your pet is very young, old, or has a compromised immune system, the spherules will grow until they eventually burst. This releases hundreds of endospores that can spread throughout your pet's lungs and other parts. The cycle then restarts, leading to an increasingly severe form of the condition.
Transmissibility of Valley Fever
Valley Fever in dogs and cats is not transmitted between pets; animals can only contract it by inhaling spores.
Signs & Symptoms of Valley Fever in Dogs & Cats
Although the symptoms of Valley Fever may have similarities between dogs and cats, there are some key differences.
Signs of Valley Fever in Dogs
In the early stages, when the spherules are contained within the lungs, symptoms of Valley Fever in dogs typically include:
- Decreased appetite
- Dry cough
- Painful swollen joints
- Eye inflammation
- Weight loss
- Persistent fever
In some very rare severe cases, if the fungus reaches the brain, Valley Fever can cause seizures.
If your dog displays symptoms of valley fever, it is essential to seek veterinary care as quickly as possible to avoid serious health complications.
Signs of Valley Fever in Cats
As mentioned earlier, cats less frequently experience valley fever than dogs. Young, active outdoor cats are more susceptible to this illness, as the spores, usually situated below the surface, become airborne when the cat digs or during extremely windy conditions.
Common symptoms of Valley Fever in cats include:
- Non-healing skin lesions that look like abscesses or dermatitis and may ooze a pale yellow to reddish fluid
- Breathing difficulties
- Behavioral changes
Treating Valley Fever in Pets
Both dogs and cats with Valley Fever typically receive treatment involving anti-fungal medications like fluconazole or itraconazole. Dogs may also undergo treatment with ketoconazole, but cats do not tolerate it well.
Treating Valley Fever in pets is a prolonged process. Most pets must take anti-fungal medications for a minimum of 6 to 12 months. If the condition persists and spreads throughout the body, there is a chance that your pet may require this medication for the rest of their life.
Is Valley Fever Curable in Pets?
The prognosis for pets diagnosed with Valley Fever relies on the severity of the condition, along with factors like your pet's age and overall health.
The Prognosis for Dogs With Valley FeverWhen diagnosed and treated early, many dogs recover well from Valley Fever. Dogs diagnosed with Valley Fever after the disease has spread to other parts of the body are more challenging to treat, and in some cases, the disease becomes life-threatening.
The Prognosis for Cats With Valley FeverThe prognosis is generally good when detected early or when your cat only exhibits localized skin symptoms. However, the prognosis worsens if Valley Fever has spread throughout your cat's body. Relapse is very common despite treatment, and approximately 60-90% of cats are estimated to recover well from Valley Fever.
Valley Fever Prevention
Because the fungus that causes Valley Fever lives in dry, desert soil, the most common places for infection include Arizona, California, Utah, Texas, and Nevada. Luckily, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself and your pet from contracting Valley Fever.
- Avoid non-landscaped areas and limit your dog's roaming to well-kept parks.
- Take walks in paved areas and keep your dog on a leash.
- If your dog likes digging, avoid desert areas.
- If your home is in a desert area, keep your pet inside for a reasonable amount of time during the summer.
- Learn to recognize the signs of Valley Fever and contact your vet immediately if your dog exhibits any symptoms.
Valley Fever Vaccination
A vaccine is now available to immunize your pets against Valley Fever, making it much safer for dogs to roam in yards and other dog-safe outdoor areas.
If you reside in an area where the condition is common, it's advisable to adhere to the recommended vaccination schedule for your pup—likely once or twice a year after the initial dose and booster. The vaccine has minimal side effects, and there is optimism that it will receive manufacturing approval within the year.
For those not residing in a Valley Fever-prone area, it's crucial to remain vigilant about any changes that may occur over time. The infection rate could rise due to climate change, potentially necessitating vaccination in the future.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.