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How to Prevent Valley Fever in Pets

Valley Fever is prevalent across the Southwestern states and can infect people, dogs, cats, and livestock. Today, our Murfreesboro vets discuss the causes, signs, and treatment of Valley Fever in pets.

Pets & Valley Fever

Coccidioidomycosis is a condition that affects dogs, cats, livestock, and humans. It is also known as Valley Fever, desert rheumatism, San Joaquin Valley Fever, and California disease. 

Valley Fever is caused by the pathogenic fungus Coccidiodes immitis, which lives in the soil and thrives in desert climates. Coccidiodes immitis is found in the low deserts of New Mexico, Texas, California, and, most notably, Arizona.

Valley Fever is seen in both dogs and cats by our Animal Medical Center veterinarians, though in cats less frequently. It is estimated that for every 50 dogs with Valley Fever, our Murfreesboro veterinarians will see one 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 get Valley Fever when they inhale Coccidiodes immitis fungal spores. When the spores are inhaled by your dog or cat, they form spherules in the lungs.

In dogs and cats with a strong and healthy immune system, the body can typically 'wall off' the spherules, preventing symptoms from arising. This means that the pet may have Valley Fever but exhibit no symptoms, which is referred to as asymptomatic.

If your pet is very young, old, or has a compromised immune system, the spherules will most likely continue to grow until they burst, releasing hundreds of endospores that can spread throughout your pet's lungs and other parts of the body, resuming the cycle and making the condition worse.

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:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dry cough
Once the fungal spores have reached other parts of your dog's body the signs of Valley Fever in dogs may become more severe and could include:
  • Painful swollen joints
  • Eye inflammation
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent fever
  • Blindness

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 previously stated, Valley Fever is less common in cats than in dogs. When this illness occurs in cats, it usually affects younger, more active outdoor cats because the spores are typically found beneath the surface but become airborne if the cat digs or during very windy conditions. 

Cats with Valley Fever commonly exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Non-healing skin lesions that look like abscesses or dermatitis and may ooze a pale yellow to reddish fluid
  • Coughing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Behavioral changes
  • Limping
  • Lethargy
Cats with Valley Fever seen by our Murfreesboro vets tend to get sicker than dogs. This may be because it can be more challenging to detect when a cat is feeling unwell, so pet parents begin noticing symptoms only when the condition is more advanced.

Treating Valley Fever in Pets

Antifungal medications such as fluconazole or itraconazole are commonly used to treat Valley Fever in dogs and cats. Ketoconazole can also be used to treat dogs, but cats do not tolerate it well.

Treatment for Valley Fever in pets takes a long time. The majority of pets will need to take antifungal medications for at least 6 to 12 months. If the condition continues to spread throughout the body, 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 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 Fever

Many dogs recover from Valley Fever when it is diagnosed and treated early on. Dogs diagnosed with Valley Fever after the disease has spread to other parts of the body are more difficult to treat, and in some cases, the disease becomes fatal.

The Prognosis for Cats With Valley Fever

When caught early, or if your cat only has localized skin symptoms, the prognosis is generally good. If Valley Fever has spread throughout your cat's body, there is a poor prognosis. While your cat's condition may improve during treatment, relapse is extremely common. It is estimated that 60-90% of cats recover fully from Valley Fever after treatment.

Valley Fever Prevention

Valley Fever is primarily found in Arizona, California, Utah, Texas, and Nevada due to the fungus's affinity for dry desert soil. Fortunately, you can take several precautions to keep 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 protect your pets against Valley Fever.This will make it much safer for dogs to roam around yards and other dog-friendly outdoor spaces.

If you live in an area where the condition is common, you should vaccinate your dog on the recommended schedule — usually once or twice a year after the initial dose and booster. The vaccine has few side effects, and it is expected to be approved for manufacture within a year.

Even if you do not live in a valley fever-prone area, you should be aware of any changes that may occur over time. Climate change accelerates infection rates, 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.

If you suspect that your dog may have valley fever, contact our Murfreesboro vets immediately for urgent care. 

New Patients Always Welcome

Animal Medical Center is happy to welcome new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about improving the health of Murfreesboro companion animals. Contact us today to book your pet's first appointment.

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