Valley Fever in Pets
Valley Fever is so common in Arizona that it’s common knowledge you should just expect to get if you live in the Valley of the Sun.
What many people don’t know is that pets are also very susceptible to the disease. It’s frustrating enough that we even classify it as one of the Top 10 “Un”Wanted Pests in Arizona.
Valley Fever is caused by a fungus that lives in the desert soil. The fungus grows in the sandy soil and matures, drying into fragile strands of cells. When dogs disturb the strands, by walking, digging, or a monsoon storm blows through, the strands break away to be easily inhaled by everyone. They then settle into the chest, spreading infection to lungs. The entire process can focus on the inhalation of one spore or thousands of spores.
About 30% of dogs who inhale spores will get sick and show symptoms, which can range from mild to severe. At times, there will be no sign of illness at all. Other times, the disease can prove fatal. Symptoms, when present, often include:
- dry, hacking cough
- unexplained weight loss
- lack of appetite or energy
- sudden lameness, swelling of limbs
- back or neck pain
- abscess-like swelling under the skin
- swollen lymph nodes
- non-healing skin ulcerations
The diagnosis of Valley Fever really depends on suspicion of the disease – particularly if you live in an area that is not known for having Valley Fever. Your vet will likely need to order blood work, possibly a chest X-ray, and maybe even a specific test that searches for Valley Fever called a “cocci test”.
Valley Fever is difficult to diagnose, taking up to 3-4 weeks to officially determine the problem. Once you have diagnosed it, there are a few ways to manage the symptoms and treat the disease. Your veterinarian can offer you the best suggestions for managing the symptoms and ridding the body of the fungus that causes Valley Fever.
Several facilities are currently evaluating new treatments and are in need of volunteers for the studies. Some will help you manage your pets care by covering any veterinary costs, while others will also pay you for assistance in the study. In today’s economy, these may be solutions to get your pet the best treatment. However, insurance is always a good option as well.
According to the Valley Fever Center in Arizona, “Research is the backbone of medical advances that improve clinical treatment. Vaccines, drugs, better diagnostic tests, and understanding host responses are topics under current study at the Valley Fever Center. There is an active study underway testing the efficacy of a new Valley Fever drug, nikkomycin Z, in dogs with Valley Fever pneumonia.”
The most important thing you can do is be vigilant. Keep pets indoors as much as possible, particularly during the summer monsoons. If you notice any unusual symptoms in your pets, be sure to visit the veterinarian and ask them to consider the possibility of Valley Fever. Recent weather activity has further distributed the spores that cause Valley Fever and it is showing up in regions that previously had no incidences.