cbd oil for dogs with valley fever

Hiking in the Desert with Your Dog? Beware of Valley Fever

A few years ago, a friend spent a couple months traveling and hiking around the southwest desert with his dog.

During their road trip back to the Northwest, my friend called me and said his dog wasn’t feeling well – acting “off”, lethargic, and panting.

Photo Courtesy of Austin Westphal

The dog’s symptoms got worse and he was eventually taken to the vet where they diagnosed him with pneumonia.

After more tests, it was determined that he had Valley Fever.

What is Valley Fever?

Valley Fever, or Coccidioidomycosis, is caused by fungi in the dust in desert regions.

(note: Valley Fever is also sometimes referred to as “California fever”,”desert rheumatism”,or “San Joaquin Valley fever”)

The fungus grows in the ground, up to a foot deep. Digging, walking, or other things that disturb the soil can cause spores to become airborne and be inhaled.

Once the spores are inhaled into the lungs, the spores grow into spherules which continue to enlarge until they burst, releasing hundreds of endospores.

Each endospore can grow into a new spherule, spreading the infection in the lungs until the dog’s immune system surrounds and destroys it.

The sickness Valley Fever occurs when the immune system does not kill the spherules and endospores quickly and they continue to spread in the lungs and sometimes throughout the animal’s body. (Source: How Dogs Get Valley Fever)

Valley Fever is known to affect humans, dogs and cats.

Where Can My Dog Get Valley Fever?

Valley Fever can be found in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, northwestern Mexico, and parts of Central and South America.

It’s especially prevalent in Arizona and in the San Joaquin Valley of California.

Cases of Valley Fever have reached epidemic proportions in Arizona and, in this area, the highest prevalence of infections occurs during June and July and from October through November.

How Does a Dog Get Valley Fever?

Your dog can get Valley Fever from inhaling the spores.

That is right, your dog can get this disease just from BREATHING!

Your dog is more susceptible when they are around disturbed soil such as getting caught in a dust storm, hiking, biking, digging, or being left outside for long periods of time.

According to this joint study by scientists at TGen and the Arizona Humane Society, “Boxers and Golden Retrievers are more likely to be diagnosed [with Valley Fever].”

It’s possible for any breed of dog to contract the disease though. My friend’s dog is a Dachshund (who loved to dig).

To help avoid infection, keep dogs inside, prevent digging, and keep them from sniffing around disturbed soil.

Photo Courtesy of Austin Westphal

Does My Dog Have Valley Fever?

If you and your dog have been in an area where Valley Fever is present, and they are not acting like themselves, you may want to watch for these things.

Signs and symptoms of Valley Fever:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Low appetite
  • Low energy

If Valley Fever is not caught in your dog right away, the disease may cause lung infection or pneumonia (like what happened with my friend’s dog).

Valley Fever can also continue to spread from the lungs. Some dogs may not show symptoms of lung disease but display symptoms that it has spread.

Symptoms that disease has spread from lungs are:

  • Lameness or swelling of limbs
  • Back or neck pain, with or without weakness/paralysis
  • Seizures and other manifestations of brain swelling
  • Soft abscess-like swelling under the skin
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the chin, in front of the shoulder blades, or behind the stifles
  • Non-healing skin wounds that ooze fluid
  • Eye inflammation with pain or cloudiness
  • Unexpected heart failure in a young dog
  • Swollen testicles

Most symptoms are not specific to Valley Fever so tests will need to be done by a veterinarian to determine if it’s the cause.

Watching for any indication that your dog might have Valley Fever, and taking your dog to the vet right away, is key to keeping your dog healthy.

Counter-clockwise, left to right: Gretel, Spartacus and Chester

How is Valley Fever in Dogs Treated?

The bad news is that there is no vaccination or preventative for Valley Fever. There is also no cure.

There is just management of symptoms and common antifungal medications that can help fight it.

Valley Fever is treated most commonly with these three antifungal medications:

  • Fluconazole (Diflucan)
  • Itraconazole (Sporanox)
  • Ketoconazole (Nizoral)

The good news is that most dogs can recover from Valley Fever with proper treatment, especially when caught early.

If the disease has spread from the lungs, a dog may need long term treatment, but the outcome is still promising.

However, it can be deadly, especially if disease spreads to the brain, so it’s important to seek treatment for your dog right away if you suspect they might have Valley Fever.

Unfortunately, tests, medications, and treatments can be expensive. If you have pet insurance for your dog, most or some of the cost to treat Valley Fever may be covered.

Can You Treat Valley Fever Naturally?

I am not a veterinarian and absolutely would not recommend a natural treatment, or “home remedy”, for anything this serious….at least not without consulting with a veterinarian first.

I did look into natural treatments for Valley Fever though. I wouldn’t say I found any sure, credible recommendations for treating it but I did find a few references to things that can SUPPLEMENT traditional treatment.

According to this story in the East Valley Tribune, “Supplemental treatments, including cough suppressants and even CBD oil, have been documented to help dogs with the symptoms of valley fever… CBD oil, or cannabidiol, is extracted from hemp plants and is used to reduce pain and inflammation.”

I did find a combination of supplements – this Canine “Valley Fever Package” – that could aid in lung and immune function to aid in recovery.

Be aware of Valley Fever but don’t let it prevent you and your dog from enjoying life.

Only a small percentage of the millions of people and pets living in and visiting the endemic areas contract Valley Fever. Of that percentage, some show no symptoms or get over it on their own.

Just be sure to know what to watch for if you live in, or are traveling to, one of these areas.

Valley Fever Storm Brewing For Chandler Dog Owners

East Valley residents who had enough of this year’s monsoon season can sure bet their dogs were sick of it more – literally.

The end of the monsoon season has brought a surge of valley fever cases to East Valley veterinarian offices.

Animal doctors are putting out alerts to dog owners to look for symptoms of the soil-dwelling fungus that’s prevalent in dusty regions of the southwestern U.S. and parts of Mexico and Central and South America.

It turns out the haboobs that roll across Arizona each summer may look impressive but can be harmful to dogs.

“The challenge is it’s different than any other disease,” said veterinarian Travis Wodiske with Family VetCare in Chandler, Mesa and Phoenix. “Things like parvo and heartworm are all preventable. With valley fever there is nothing we can do to prevent it, which means we simply need to be aware of the symptoms.”

Coughing and limping are typically the first two signs that the fungus is taking hold, along with weight loss in some dogs.

“So many people are unaware of the symptoms of valley fever and how common it is,” Wodiske said. “If you can identify the symptoms early, it’s an easier treatment to fix, which means it’s less costly as well.”

Research into valley fever among animals is growing. Dogs make up a majority of cases, but cats, alpacas, llamas, horses and even dolphins have been diagnosed with the fungus.

Lisa Shubitz, a research scientist in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences at University of Arizona, said she treats about 25 dogs to every one cat suspected of valley fever.

Unfortunately for dogs in Arizona, that’s because just about all of them are exposed to the fungus. Once they’re exposed to inhaling the tiny seeds or spores, the fungus transforms into spherules, which eventually burst. That begins a cycle where new spherules will develop in a dog’s lungs.

High cost of treatment

The good news is about 70 percent of dogs can inhale valley fever spores and naturally fight them with their own immune systems. The bad news is the other 30 percent will attain valley fever and will need to be treated with antifungal medication twice a day.

If caught early, most dogs have a six- to 12-month recuperation period. But some dogs may need to take medication for the rest of their lives.

Although there’s no cure for valley fever, the fungus is rarely deadly. It can, however, have a drastic effect on a dog’s quality of life and their owner’s pocketbook.

The Valley Fever Center for Excellence estimates the fungus costs Arizona dog owners a total of $60 million per year. Fluconazole, the medication used to treat it in pets, isn’t cheap. For smaller dogs, it can cost about $50 a month, but for the big dogs, it can blow past $150 a month.

Plus, the high cost for valley fever blood test – average around $200 – causes some infected pet owners to never have their furry friends tested.

“Most can’t afford that,” Shubitz said. “Dogs get abandoned because of this disease, or people throw them out on the street.”

Finding a cure

Since 1996, Shubitz has been working with a team at U of A that’s trying to find a cure for the disease, which is officially known as coccidioidomycosis. The group hopes to have a vaccine in place for dogs by 2021.

The work of Shubitz, under noted researcher John Galgiani, is the next generation of valley fever work dating back two centuries.

Valley fever was first discovered in humans in Argentina in 1892, but it became widespread in the early 20th century when numerous cases in California’s Central Valley led doctors to call it San Joaquin Valley Fever.

Arizona and other parts of the U.S. became breeding grounds for the fungus in the 1940s when people migrated from the Midwest during the “Dust Bowl” days.

As for the fungus in animals, an eminent human pulmonologist in the 1940s, Dr. O.J. Farness, was the first to detect valley fever in his own dog.

But until the late 1960s or early 1970s, veterinarians weren’t able to detect the fungus in live dogs, only in necropsy tests. Since then, the prevalence of X-rays and blood tests has made the detection a little easier – albeit still costly.

Since those early days of detection, Shubitz said the range of the disease is slowly growing across the continent. Maricopa, Pinal and Cochise counties dominate the cases in Arizona. Nearby states such as California, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Utah are also dealing with reported infections.

The actual numbers are hard to collect, however, since the testing is so inconsistent with the timing of the tests and methods used. The Center for Disease Control’s most recent numbers for 2016 showed more than 6,100 new cases in Arizona that year.

That outpaces the rate for human contraction of the fungus. Arizona residents are in ground zero for the fungus, but it’s still rare overall. The Center for Disease Control reports fewer than 200,000 people get it each year in the entire U.S.

Alternative methods

While waiting for a cure, dog owners are turning to alternative means to help treat their animals and insurance to help pay for it.

Supplemental treatments, including cough suppressants and even CBD oil, have been documented to help dogs with the symptoms of valley fever.

CBD oil, or cannabidiol, is extracted from hemp plants and is used to reduce pain and inflammation. It’s typically associated with medical marijuana treatment but has no psychoactive ingredients and can be purchased at drug stores and smoke shops.

As for helping with the overall cost of treatment, pet health insurance plans are helping defray the cost of treatment for some dog owners. Shubitz said she used to consider pet health plans a waste of money for young, healthy dogs. But a lifetime of valley fever treatment could pay off in the end.

“I have one patient who without health insurance probably would have long ago passed away because of a lack of options and high cost of treatment,” Shubitz said. “It’s kind of a catastrophic disease if you’re going to be on treatment for at least a year and maybe forever.”

Dolphin death linked to valley fever

The costs of treating valley fever could very well even be extending to area zoos.

That became a controversial factor in this year’s death of one of two dolphins at the Dolphinaris Arizona park in Scottsdale.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration listed the cause of death to the 10-year-old bottlenose dolphin as valley fever. Officials at the facility, however, are attributing Alia’s death to an acute bacterial infection called septicemia.

Animal activists said the park is misleading the public about the dolphin’s death. Stephanie Nichols-Young of the Animal Defense League of Arizona told the Arizona Republic earlier this year that Arizona’s high rate of Valley Fever cases was one of the reasons the group protested dolphins moving to the Scottsdale park last year.

Shubitz said stories like the Dolphinaris incident are causing zoos across the Southwest to budget money for valley fever cases for their animals.

“It’s a disease that I never learned about in school,” Shubitz said. “I never had any animals with valley fever until I started this research. Until there’s a vaccine, it’s all about educating and teaching people about the disease.”