Valley Fever in Dogs
What is Valley Fever?
By Tamara Vollmer
With references from the Valley Fever Center for Excellence
University of Arizona
"In Loving Memory of Foxy"
Valley Fever is an illness in humans and animals that is caused by inhaling
or ingesting spores of a fungus that lives and thrives in the soil of the low desert regions of Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Texas, and the Central Valleys & Deserts of California. The original name for the disease is "San Joaquin Valley Fever" as it was a major problem for the migrant crop workers in the California produce fields of the San Joaquin Valley. The mature fungal strands are delicate and when the soil is disturbed by digging, walking, construction, rodents, or high winds, the strands break apart into tiny individual spores and are easily inhaled. In one breath the dog may inhale only a few spores or many hundreds. Once inhaled the fungal spores grow and burst releasing hundreds of endospores which will continue to spread the fungal disease until immune system destroys it. If the immune system is not strong enough to kill the fungus, the endospores will quickly spread thought out the body and into the brain.
The most common early symptoms of Valley Fever in dogs and humans are:
Coughing, Fever, Loss of Appetite, Weight Loss, Lack of Energy, Lethargy.
As the fungus progresses, it can be revealed by x-ray and swollen lymph nodes. Advanced symptoms or disseminated Valley Fever can include: lameness or swelling of the joints and limbs, back or neck pain with or with out weakness and paralysis, seizures, blindness, soft swelling under the skin, non-healing skin ulcerations, eye inflammations or cloudiness, sudden heart failure in young dogs, and swollen testicles.
Sometimes dogs will not have signs of lung infection, such as coughing or wheezing, but will develop the symptoms of lameness or seizures. Few of the signs of Valley Fever are specific to this disease alone and your veterinarian MUST do specific fungal smears called titers to confirm it's presence.
Valley Fever is not contagious and cannot be transmitted by humans or animals.
My Mother lives in Lake Havasu City Arizona, a prominent area for infection of Valley Fever, my mother herself is a survivor of the disease.
A visit to Arizona in January 2012 plus a little digging in grandmas back yard after a rodent cost my young Vizsla, "Foxy" her life.
After inhaling the spores in January, Foxy did not show any identifiable symptoms of distress, until late March when she became obviously ill. She refused to eat, had fever, no energy, slept a lot, was depressed, and coughed.
Our first visit to the Vet. was March 20th. We were away from home and took her immediately to the closest Veterinarian Hospital. Foxy was examined, tested and received the diagnosis of Pneumonia for which we began the prescribed antibiotic treatment. Returning home a few days later, Foxy was not responding to treatment, so we visited our home Vet. She agreed with the previous diagnosis but went through another set of Blood tests, X-rays and exams. Subsequent visits, testing and medications produced no positive change, results or additional diagnosis. At the suggestion of our primary Vet. we went to a specialist for consultation, who could do a bronchial scope of her lungs to find out what was going on, since the X-rays reveled a sever shading, or congestion (pneumonia) in her lungs.
It was during this time, in my search to find any kind of palatable dog food or treat my starving Foxy might possible eat, that I found myself in a newly opened pet store. The concerned clerk, who was helping me, mentioned "Valley Fever". A disease her dog had contracted and survived, that Foxy's symptoms sounded like they were the same. I knew of the disease in humans but had no idea a dog could get it.
During my consultation with the specialist I requested they do the test for Valley Fever, a fungal disease they were unfamiliar with in dogs, because of our travel history to Arizona. The blood test is called a Cocci titer, short for Coccidioidomycosis. It checks the blood to see if the dog is making antibodies against the Valley Fever fungus and takes several days to return results. If the test is positive, it means the dog has been infected with the fungus. Foxy's test was positive, we finally knew to treat her with antifungal.
The three oral antifungal medications of choice for canines are: Fluconazole (Difulcan), Ketoconazole (Nizoral) and Itraconazole (Sporanox). These medications all target the fungus to inhibit it's growth, but they differ in chemical properties, metabolism, and side effects.
These medications must be given by mouth twice a day for a minimum of three months. This will inhibit the fungal growth, but does not kill it. That is completely up to the bodies immune system. Most dogs with antifungal therapy do recover from this disease, especially when diagnosed early. Dogs with advanced infection have a more guarded prognosis. The treatment with anti fungal medication may be required for many months, years and sometimes for life. The medication is expensive, and it is imperative that the animal receive the correct dosage regularly. Periodic testing and monitoring of the Cocci titer is required as well as blood tests to watch for damage to the liver and other vital organs from the side effects of the medications.
Foxy began taking Fluconazole April 9th 2012. She gave a good fight, and her health seemed to rally. She gained weight and became the happy fun loving energetic Vizsla she was born to be, for a few short months. Unfortunately her health deteriorated , neurological symptoms became obvious. She became increasingly skittish, fearful, confused, & lethargic. She stopped eating again, became depressed, had tremors, and ultimately Blindness. After many more visits to several vets, an Arizona Specialists informed us that the fungus can for a "Fungal Granuloma" in the brain which encapsulates itself and neither the body's immune system nor the antifungal medications can touch or effect it.
She succumbed to the disease and died in February 2013.
So.. Now we all know about "Valley Fever". That humans can get it, your beloved pet can get it. If you live, work, vacation, or just pass through any of the affected areas of our United States, and show any sigh of the symptoms... Get the Cocci test. You will probably need to ask specifically for the Cocci Titer, because chances are you Vet. is unfamiliar, never heard of "Valley Fever". The Cocci Titer will add dollars to your Vet. bill, but in the long run, may save you money. The most important of all is early diagnosis, this could save the life of your precious pet.
Just one breath and you or your pet could have Valley Fever for life...or for Death.