Valley fever is prevalent across the Southwestern states and can infect people, dogs, cats, and livestock. Today, our Lakewood vets discuss the causes, signs, treatment, and prevention of Valley Fever in pets.
Pets & Valley Fever
Coccidioidomycosis is a condition seen in dogs, cats, livestock, and people that goes by several different names including Valley Fever, desert rheumatism, San Joaquin Valley Fever, and California disease.
Valley Fever is caused by a pathogenic fungus called Coccidiodes immitis that lives in the soil and thrives in particular desert climates. In the US Coccidiodes immitis can be found in the low desert regions of New Mexico, Texas, California, and most especially in Arizona.
Our vets at Red Rocks Animal Center see Valley Fever in both dogs and cats, although less frequently in cats. It is estimated that for about every 50 dogs with Valley Fever, our Lakewood vets will see 1 case in cats.
It is important to seek veterinary assistance as soon as your pet is showing signs of Valley Fever. Left untreated, your pet may require urgent medical care and the disease can become fatal.
How Pets Contract Valley Fever
Pets develop Valley Fever when they breathe in Coccidiodes immitis fungal spores. When the spores are inhaled by your dog or cat they grow into spherules within the pet's lungs.
In dogs and cats that have a strong and healthy immune system, the body is typically able to 'wall off' the spherules preventing symptoms from developing. This means that the pet may have the condition but have no symptoms of Valley Fever, known as asymptomatic.
If your pet is very young, old, or has a compromised immune system the spherules will likely continue to grow until they eventually burst, releasing hundreds of endospores that can spread throughout the lungs and other parts of your pet's body where the cycle will begin again and the condition will become increasingly severe.
Transmissibility of Valley Fever
Valley Fever in dogs and cats is not contagious between pets, and can only be contracted through the inhalation of spores.
Signs & Symptoms of Valley Fever in Dogs & Cats
Although the symptoms of Valley Fever may have some 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 is displaying 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, Valley Fever is less common in cats than it is in dogs. When this illness does occur in cats it tends to be in younger active outdoor cats since the spores are typically found below the surface but become airborne if that cat digs or during very 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
The treatment for both dogs and cats with Valley Fever will typically include an anti-fungal medication such as fluconazole or itraconazole. Dogs may also be treated with ketoconazole but this is not well tolerated by cats.
Treatment of Valley Fever in pets takes quite a long time. The majority of pets will need to be taking antifungal medications for a minimum of 6 - 12 months. If the condition continues to spread through the body, there is the possibility that your pet may need to be on this medication for the rest of their life.
Is Valley Fever Curable in Pets?
The prognosis for pets diagnosed with Valley Fever depends upon the severity of the condition as well as other factors such as 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 FeverWhen caught early, or if your cat is only experiencing localized symptoms of the skin, the prognosis is generally good. If Valley Fever has spread throughout your cat's body the prognosis is poor. While your cat's condition may improve during treatment relapse is very common. It is estimated that about 60-90% of cats recover well from Valley Fever after receiving treatment.
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
There is a vaccine available to immunize your pets against Valley Fever. This will make it much safer for dogs to roam in yards and other dog-safe outdoor areas.
If you live in an area where the condition is common, it’s best to vaccinate your pup on the recommended schedule — likely once or twice a year after the initial dose and booster. There are minimal side effects, and the hope is the vaccine will be approved for manufacture within the year.
If you don’t live in an area with valley fever, it’s important to stay aware of any changes that could happen over time. Climate change increases the infection rate, possibly causing a vaccination need 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.