Dramatic Rise in Pet Valley Fever Cases

The past two years has seen a dramatic upswing in the number of Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis) cases in the Tucson area. Changing weather patterns with several years of drought, followed by two years of unusual amounts of rain and the winds that those storms bring with them, are probably to blame.

Valley fever begins as a fungus pneumonia.  The fungus is found in the soil of the Sonoran desert.  This fungus is breathed in with dusty Tucson air, or from digging in the soil which is many dogs favorite pastime.  From the lungs the fungus can spread to the bones, and cause lameness, or to any organ of the body. Most of our patients are treated with an anti-fungal agent called Fluconazole, which cures most cases in about a years time. Periodic tests are required to check on the progression of the disease, since this is a body wide infection by a fungus. Once successfully treated, dogs almost never catch the disease again. We have seen two exceptions to this rule in the past month with two dogs having caught the disease a second time. Cats are usually genetically immune to Valley Fever, but in the past six months, we have seen two cats with the disease. These exceptions show how prevalent the Valley Fever disease has become in the past two years.

Valley Fever XRay in Dog
Certain breeds of dog are particularly susceptible to valley fever, almost every member of those breeds catch valley fever when exposed.

Prevention may someday involve vaccination for the Valley Fever fungal organism.  The University of Arizona’s Center for Valley Fever Excellence is presently testing a vaccine to prevent the disease. Initial results are promising. Other than vaccination, preventing your pet from digging and keeping dogs indoors on windy days and particularly when there is dirt work construction in your neighborhood.

You should consult your veterinarian if your dog has had a persistent cough, lameness that  has lasted more than two or three days, dogs with unexplained fevers and dogs that are obviously but unremarkably ill.  Cats with valley fever usually have respiratory symptoms.

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