Dogs and even indoor cats are susceptible to Valley Fever

Published: Mar. 7, 2024 at 3:21 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2024 at 6:34 PM MST

TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) – Veterinarians are warning pet owners that Valley Fever is on the rise.

It’s a serious and potentially life-threatening disease that can spread throughout the body.

It’s most often found in dogs, but indoor cats can be infected, too.

Unfortunately for dogs in Arizona, nearly all are exposed to the fungus that causes Valley Fever.

The good news is about 70% of dogs successfully fight the infection with their immune systems. But about a third will develop Valley Fever and require medication.

“Valley Fever in our area is incredibly prevalent,” said doctor Randy Aronson, an integrative veterinarian in Tucson and owner of PAWS Veterinary Center.

He says signs of Valley Fever in our pets include a dry cough or choking, lack of appetite, and being tired. These signs typically develop a few weeks after infection.

“Sometimes the disease will go quiet, and owners won’t see those signs, or aren’t picking those up. And then it has the ability to get into the body and go just about anywhere. We’ve had it in the brain, heart, kidney, it’s very common in bone,” said doctor Aronson.

“I noticed it on Saturday morning. He did it early in the morning, one cough, which was abnormal. Then the next day I heard it again,” said dog owner Michelle Robnett. “Other symptoms he had was lack of appetite. He would not eat kibble. He only wanted wet food. And the wetter the better, so I had to add water to it.”

Robnett didn’t take any chances with her dog Rascal, a 12-year-old Bichon mix.

Robnett works at PAWS Veterinary Center and brought Rascal in.

“They checked him at first, not sure if it would be kennel cough or not. But they checked him for Valley Fever, and it was definitely Valley Fever,” said Robnett.

Doctor Aronson says Valley Fever doesn’t have to be a death sentence, or a lifetime of medication. If diagnosed early, most dogs like Rascal will have a six to 12-month recovery.

Robnett says, “Rascal was probably on medication for 11 months. And then everything was gone. No more Valley Fever.”

Doctor Aronson is also treating a number of cats with Valley Fever.

“And the reason is they’re exposed to a lot of the same spores through open windows, even screened windows, HVAC units or evaporative cooling units. So, they get the same type of exposure and people aren’t aware of it. But we’ve seen enough of it that we’re in tune for looking for it,” said doctor Aronson.

Scientists at the University of Arizona Valley Fever Center for Excellence are working on a vaccine to prevent Valley Fever in dogs, and are hopeful to do the same for people.

Until it’s cleared for use, is there anything pet owners can do to limit exposure?

“People always ask that question. And the answer is, a dog and a cat need to be a dog and a cat. So it’s very difficult to say don’t let your dog dig outside. Don’t let your cat go near an open window. So as long as they’re feeding high quality food, helping them with supplementation, that gives their immune system the best chance for fighting this,” said doctor Aronson.

Valley Fever can have a severe effect on a pet’s quality of life and can be costly to treat. That’s why experts say testing and early diagnosis is key. The cost for a Valley Fever titer test is about $100.

To watch Rebecca Taylor’s series on Valley Fever use the links below

⋅ Scientists say there’s evidence that Valley Fever is thriving due to climate change.

⋅ Experts at the University of Arizona discuss a new Valley Fever dashboard in Tucson to help physicians and the public track when cases peak.

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