Pet owners living in the Southwestern desert area are often worried about canine valley fever. This is because this is a serious dog infection that is very common in the dusty areas of the United States. The desert regions of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Southwestern Texas are the thriving grounds for the fungus that leads to this health problem. Thus, it is very important for every dog owner in these regions to educate themselves regarding canine valley fever symptoms.
Canine valley fever is a very serious and life-threatening fungal disease in dogs. This disease is caused by Coccidioides immitis, a fungus that is common in the dry desert regions of the United States. This fungus produces spores that remain dormant in the soil and sand. They reproduce only after it rains and the fungus releases more spores in the environment.
A dog that inhales the spores while playing or digging in the soil or sand, becomes susceptible to infection. It has been found that inhaling less than 10 spores may also lead to mild canine valley fever in dogs. Dogs with a weak immune system are particularly at risk of falling prey to this systemic fungal infection.
Canine valley fever occurs in two forms. This includes the mild form, also called primary form, and the disseminated form. After inhalation of the spores, they develop into spherules. These are large multicellular structures that burst releasing many endospores within the body. The primary form of the condition occurs when the disease is just limited to the respiratory organs, i.e., lungs.
The dog suffers from respiratory symptoms like -
- Continuous hacking cough
- Fever (over 102°F)
- Loss of appetite
Thus, these spores are able to travel down to other organs leading to spread of infection. The disease spreads to the bones and joints causing the dog to limp. It may even spread to the brain leading to seizures. The symptoms of disseminated form of canine valley fever include -
- Swollen limbs
- Pain in the neck or back
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Skin ulcerations
- Eye inflammation
Diagnosis of Canine Valley Fever
If you notice any of the above symptoms of canine valley fever, it is important to take your dog to a veterinarian for further diagnosis. The veterinarian may suggest canine valley fever tests like a blood test that checks for specific antibodies related to the fungus. Other tests may include isolation of the fungal agent from the skin ulcerations and lesions or a chest X-ray to understand the type and severity of the infection. Once the condition is confirmed, the veterinarian will begin with canine valley fever treatment.
The canine valley fever medications include antifungal drugs that help in getting rid of all the fungus from the dog's body. This conventional treatment is continued for about 6 months to a year. The common medications used include ketoconazole and itraconazole.
Ketoconazole medication is the least expensive, but leads to many side effects that include vomiting, loss of appetite and liver damage. Itraconazole is an expensive medication with fewer side effects. However, both medications need to be given to the dog daily for about 6 to 12 months. If left untreated or if one does not complete the course of the treatment, it may lead to death of the dog.
It has been found that many dogs are successfully treated with prompt medical intervention. However, a few dogs may die in spite of giving them the required medication and treatment. These dogs include very small puppies, old dogs and those with a weak immune system. Most dogs tend to live through the infection and become immune to the spores by the time they complete their treatment course.
Is Canine Valley Fever Contagious?
If you are wondering whether canine valley fever is contagious, the answer is 'no'. This condition does not spread to other pets or humans from an infected animal. Also, a human infected with canine valley fever will not pass on the infection to another person or a pet, including dogs. The same applies to dogs, as they cannot pass on the infection to their owners as well as other pets around the house.
If you observe respiratory illness symptoms and a limp in your dog for no apparent reason, make sure you test him for valley fever. This is especially true for people who live in the Southwestern desert regions of the US. For further information on this disease condition, speak to the veterinarian.