It was a cough. After a few days of dry coughing I took my dog to the veterinarian. Thankfully, lab tests and x-rays (about $320) showed that the cough was not Valley Fever. After a few weeks of antibiotics her cough, and the infection that caused it cleared up.
For many dog owners in the Phoenix area (and other areas of the desert Southwest) the diagnosis/cure is not that simple. Valley Fever is fairly common in dogs here, and dogs who travel here even for short periods of time can become infected.
Fast forward one year. My little canine pal developed a limp. She wasn't in pain, just gimpy. We took her to the vet. More lab tests and x-rays. This time, it was confirmed that she had Valley Fever.
What is Valley Fever?
Valley Fever is a respiratory disease that affects both humans and animals. It can spread to other parts of the dog's body. While other animals are susceptible to Valley Fever as well, it manifests itself mostly in dogs because they are usually more exposed to dusty areas and have a tendency to sniff them, thereby inhaling the offending spores.
The Valley Fever Center for Excellence at University of Arizona in Tucson has long been acknowledged as an expert resource relative to Valley Fever, and is involved in research and providing support to the medical community about the disease. These are highlights of information provided by them, along with my comments and suggestions. For an in-depth analysis of Valley Fever in animals, visit Valley Fever Center for Excellence online.
How Do Dogs Get Valley Fever
Arizona isn't the only place where Valley Fever is an issue, but it is probably the most prominent here and in Southern California. Valley Fever is found not only in the Desert Southwest but also in other warm-climate states. So how do dogs get Valley Fever? They sniff. That's all it takes.
What are the Symptoms?
Coughing is one symptom. Others include lack of appetite, weight loss, a lack of energy and/or weight loss. If the disease becomes disseminated to other parts of the body outside the lungs, the symptoms might also include lameness, seizures, eye inflammation and swollen lymph nodes.
How is it Treated?
If your dog has been diagnosed with Valley Fever, your veterinarian will conduct tests to determine the degree to which the disease has advanced. Typically, the dog will be treated with an anti-fungal medication, usually Fluconazole (a pill). Other drugs are available as well, and your veterinarian will discuss the pros and cons of each. Your dog may be on this medication for a year or longer, and may require future tests to evaluate the disease. Relapses are possible.
Can I Catch Valley Fever From My Dog?
No. Valley Fever is not contagious. It is not passed from animal to animal, or animal to human, or human to human. It is developed from inhaling spores from desert soil.
Will My Dog Die?
Most dogs, like humans, are able to fight off the Valley Fever infection and never have any symptoms. Also like humans, the severity of the disease varies in dogs that develop it. It might be a mild infection, or might develop into a serious illness. Your dog could die from Valley Fever, but, with regular checkups and quickly addressing your dog's health problems, it is usually treatable. Luckily, Arizona veterinarians are very familiar with Valley Fever and will consider it early on in a symptomatic dog.
In my dog's case, the veterinarian first tried a regular antibiotic regimen to see if that resolved the cough. When it didn't, Valley Fever tests were in order. When the tests were determined to be negative for Valley Fever (not always conclusive), we tried a different antibiotic which did resolve the cough in a few weeks. Had the cough or other symptoms continued, additional Valley Fever testing might have been recommended. Like most illnesses in dogs (and in humans) early diagnosis of Valley Fever will likely yield faster, more effective relief.
Does Pet Insurance Cover Treatments for Valley Fever?
I have medical coverage (pet insurance) for my pup, and they advised me that tests and treatments for Valley Fever are covered on my plan. Every company is different, and each company has different plans. When you evaluate pet insurance companies, make sure you ask what the coverage is for Valley Fever and how long it lasts. Be aware that most companies will not insure your pet for pre-existing conditions. That means that if your dog has already been diagnosed with Valley Fever, they probably won't cover it.
Drugs like Fluconazole are typically obtained through regular pharmacies that offer compounding services, and are not dispensed by the veterinarian. Because the prescription will be written in your pet's name, the pharmacy will not submit that to your (human) medical insurance plan. You will pay regular retail for it.
Fluconazole can be very expensive. The dosage is usually between 2.5 and 10mg per kilogram weight of your dog per day. Since a kilogram is about 2.2 pounds, a dog that weighs 65 pounds, may need 200mg or more per day. That's just an example. When I checked, Costco had the cheapest price of the bog box stores, and you don't need to be a Costco member to use their pharmacy. I also found a few pharmacies that do veterinary compounding that were even cheaper.
It is very important that you inquire at different pharmacies to compare prices for your pet's drugs. When they are not covered by insurance, prices can vary greatly between pharmacy chains.
What Can I Do To Prevent Valley Fever?
You can't stop Valley Fever — it's on the ground and in the air here. It is caused by spores in dust. You can, however, reduce the likelihood of your dog being infected, or at least mitigate its impact.
- Don't leave your dog in a yard or dog park that has not been landscaped. If it's just dirt and dust, that's what she is inhaling all day. Grass or desert rock/gravel is better.
- Don't walk or run your dog in open desert areas or undeveloped lots. It's the same concept as number (1) above.
- Don't walk your dog during dust storms or haboobs.
- Be aware of symptoms, and have your dog examined by a veterinarian if they arise. Valley Fever can spread to other organs.
Note: I am not a veterinarian nor am I a doctor. If your pet exhibits symptoms for more than a day or two, take the pet to a veterinarian who is familiar with Valley Fever for an examination.