Every year thousands of dogs are infected with Valley Fever in Arizona. What we found over the years are few things that can help treat and cure several dogs even the most severe cases from this dangerous, debilitating and deadly disease. We wanted to make sure that pet owners understand the disease, understand what to look for in their pet if you think they might have valley fever and know what best in practice treatment options are available. We will talk about our approach to successfully managing and treating valley fever. Let’s start by talking about the fungus itself. Valley Fever is a fungus that lives in the soil in this arid environment. It displays active behavior most often in the summer months during our monsoon season where high winds and rain can activate and release the fungus in the soil. The Valley Fever fungus or collectively referred to as Coccidioidomycosis is airborne and inhaled by pets and people. In Arizona where many of our residents are snowbirds or new to the area their immune system may be naive to this fungal infection which can make them more susceptible to getting the active disease. The same is true for pets new to our state.
It’s very difficult to prevent exposure to the disease because of the airborne nature of the fungus and most dogs constantly have their nose to the ground sniffing smelling and inadvertently inhaling the fungal spores into their lungs. Dogs that dig will also expose themselves to the fungus and finally with all the recent and continued building in the area construction sites will raid us into the air creating a health risk to pets and people in terms of valley fever. There is no way to prevent the disease but you can minimize it by keeping indoors during monsoon season avoiding being outdoors during windy days and being mindful when you’re outside digging or working with the native soil. When a dog get sick from valley fever the early signs of disease can be as simple as feeling tired and possibly a high temperature. Most often people bring their dog to the veterinarian because it has a cough and is not feeling well. When we evaluate dogs for Valley Fever the way we diagnose it is through a blood test and the clinical signs. Blood testing looks for exposure in your immune system to tell you whether or not there’s an active infection.
When a diagnosis of valley fever is made, our treatment of choice is Fluconazole. We treat with this antifungal drug for two to six months depending on severity of disease. Fluconazole historically is a human drug that was very expensive and cost prohibitive to use when treating dogs, so many veterinarians reached for non FDA-approved compounded medications in effort to save money. This is a trend that continues today but is not recommended as compounds again are not FDA approved and cannot be made to the same quality standards as the human FDA approved brand or generic drugs. Generic and Brand Fluconazole result in better patient outcomes. If you are currently using a compounded medication to treat your dog with Valley Fever and not seeing good results, switching will often times make a difference. In addition to fluconazole we have other drugs we will use if needed to help control or treat disease including injectable antifungals for more serious cases. It is important to note that there are no FDA-approved drugs for use in dogs with Valley Fever so the use of these Human-labeled FDA-approved drugs is considered “Off-label”.
Nutrition is another key element of recovery from Valley Fever. Ultra-premium dog food (found most often in the high-end pet stores) has benefits. Most important is to keep your pets appetite strong. Certain supplements designed to support the immune system also have shown to speed the recovery from Valley Fever. Most of these are oral and some are injections. Finally, the new advancements in veterinary medicine with immune-modulating drugs have shown positive results and should be considered for the toughest chronic cases not responding to traditional therapy.
Implementing a multi-mode approach to treatment of valley fever along with a quick and speedy diagnosis generally results in a more rapid and successful recovery. If you have a dog with Valley Fever the key things to do are change from compound to brand or generic Fluconazole, improve the nutrition and try a couple of the key supplements designed to support the immune system. At Arizona Animal Hospital in the North Scottsdale, Cave Creek/Carefree area we have focused and have found what we believe is the perfect mix nutritionally along with the proper medications to enhance good patient outcomes. If you have a dog or cat with Valley Fever and are not seeing good results, please consider contacting us today. For more information please go to our website.
Brett the Vet