Valley Fever and Other Southwestern Problems


Valley Fever
What Is Valley Fever? Coccidioidomycosis, or Valley Fever, is a disease caused by the fungus Coccidioides immitis, which exists as a mold found in the soil. The highest incidence of this disease occurs in the desert areas of the south western United States.

The environmental conditions necessary for survival of the fungus include a warm, arid climate, low elevations with small amounts of rainfall, and relatively alkaline soil.

The disease occurs in most species of domestic animals, many exotic animals and in man. It is not considered contagious from one animal to another or from animals to man. The disease occurs as a result of the inhalation of fungal spores directly from the soil or from dust in the air.

An animal of nearly any age may be susceptible. Statistics also show that most breeds and sizes of pets are capable of contracting the fungal infection.

Two Forms Of Valley Fever
Coccidioidomycosis can occur in two forms … the primary form and the disseminated form. In the primary form, the infection develops two to four weeks from the time of exposure, and is still primarily located in the lungs and thoracic lymph nodes. In the disseminated form, the disease process has advanced, allowing the infection to spread from the original lung site to other areas of the body, to bones, joints, skin, brain, liver, kidney and almost any other fissue, with lameness a common sign.

Know What To Look For
The signs seen with the primary form of the disease may include an elevated temperature of 104′ to 105′, listlessness, anorexia or loss of appetite, and a pronounced dry, harsh cough. The cough sounds similar to a bronchial type and may be confused with kennel cough in dogs. In disseminated cases, infection of the bones is the most prevalent type, causing lameness or limping. Other signs could include swelling of joints, weight loss, chronic coughing, skin abscesses, pain, eye problems, uncoordination or seizures.

• Swelling of Joints

• Weight Loss

• Chronic Coughing

• Skin Abscesses • Limping

• Pain

• Incoordination

• Seizures

If your pet is showing any of the signs suggestive of Coccidioidomycosis, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination. This examination will include temperature, auscultation of the chest, radiographs of the chest or other affected area, blood serology testing, and other specialized tests as indicated by the signs.

Treatment of Coccidioidomycosis should be started immediately. The treatment process may vary based on location of the infection and the degree to which the individual animal is affected.

Several antifungal medications can be used to treat Valley Fever. Fluconazole (Diflucan) and Itraconazole (Sporanox) are the most effective oral drugs with the least side effects. Fluconazole is also a very effective drug for infections in the brain.

Ketoconazole (Nizoral) is the least expensive drug, but also causes common side effects such as loss of appetite, vomiting, and lightening of hair color. Liver toxicity may also occur in rare instances.

Occasionally in extremely ill patients, hospitalization is required with intravenous fluids, intravenous Fluconazole or Amphotericin B (an IV drip only). The latter drug is effective, but may be toxic to the kidneys and requires a series of intravenous injections over several weeks.

At the present time there is no known preventive other than decreasing your pet’s exposure to the desert soil and dust as much as possible, especially around rodent burrows in the ground.

Contact Your Veterinarian
If your pet is exhibiting any of the signs listed above, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. If Coccidioidomycosis is present, everything possible will be done to help return your pet to good health.



Desert plants can be hazardous to pets!  “Foxtails” are the dried seed heads of western grasses. When the winter grasses turn brown in the spring and summer, the seed heads break off easily. These foxtails are pointed on one end and spiked on the other, much like a fishhook. After attaching to an animal, the foxtails tend to move in only one direction — in. They may work their way beneath eyelids, down ear canals, and between toes. Removal generally requires veterinary assistance.

To avoid foxtail problems, keep lawns mowed, and avoid fields where dried grass is visible. Seek veterinary care if an animal suddenly squints, tilts it head constantly, or chews and licks a paw continuously. Even though they usually avoid cactus, pets can become covered with cactus needles. The needles can introduce infection and sometimes become stuck in the mouth when the animal tries to chew them out. Veterinary assistance may be required to remove the cactus needles.



Heat stroke in pets is a major problem in Arizona. Heat stroke occurs when pets are exposed to high temperatures and placed under stress. Animals require shade and cool water to help maintain normal body temperature. They rely on two cooling mechanisms (panting and sweating through the footpads) as well.

One of the most frequent places for heat stroke to occur is in a parked car. With poor ventilation, the temperature rises quickly and your pet is not able to keep cool. Your pet will begin to breathe rapidly trying to cool off. The body temperature can rise 5-10 degrees. Vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures often follow and death can occur within minutes.

If you suspect heat stroke, apply cool water to the entire animal and call your veterinarian immediately. By acclimating your pet to the heat and providing plenty of shade and cool water, heat exhaustion can be prevented.



Pets are very inquisitive and come into contact with parasites in other animals stools as well as in contaminated water supplies. Common intestinal parasites include roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms, but other microscopic parasites can make your pet sick. Coccidia and giardia can also cause vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. A yearly examination of your pet’s stool helps locate these parasites and determines what medication is necessary.  There is no all encompassing de-wormer. Identification of the parasite is necessary for proper treatment. These parasites can be transmitted to humans through poor hygiene practices.


Rabies is a deadly disease that is present in many areas of the United States. It is carried by a number of species, including dogs, rats, skunks, bats, bobcats, and foxes. In Arizona, rabies is rarely found in dogs and cats, and has been found mostly in bats and skunks. The disease is transmitted through a bite from an infected animal, or any transfer of saliva which contains the virus.


Rabies has been effectively controlled in the dog and cat population through vaccination. The vaccine can be administered to puppies and kittens after 3 months of age. The first vaccination produces immunity for one year, while follow vaccination usually provides immunity for 3 years. In Arizona, it is required by law that dogs are vaccinated for rabies.



Ticks cause a great deal of trouble for dogs in Arizona. Ticks can spread disease and, in heavy infestations, can cause anemia from blood loss. These diseases include tick fever (ehrlichiosis), Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Lyme disease. Tick fever is the most prevalent of these diseases in Arizona. At this time, the tick that carries Lyme disease can be found only in remote areas of our state. Symptoms of all three diseases include fever, listlessness, anemia, weight loss, unexplained bleeding, seizures, joint pain and poor appetite. Prevention of tick infestation is the primary means of controlling these diseases, but treatment is available.

Fleas are also a very significant problem for dogs and cats. They may cause skin allergies, anemia and act as carriers for tapeworms and other diseases.



The Colorado river toad, (Bufo Alvarius), commonly found in Arizona, can pose a threat to your pets. Mouthing or ingestion of these toads can cause a mild to severe toxicity in dogs and cats since toads have skin glands that contain toxins. Toad poisoning can be diagnosed rapidly because often times the owner observes the pet playing with the toad. The most common initial presenting clinical signs are mouth irritation and excessive drooling. Affected animals may also develop heart arrhythmias, seizures, weakness, collapse, vomiting and diarrhea. Severe toxicities can quickly lead to death if not treated. If a pet is observed playing with a toad, rapid intervention by the owner is necessary. The first step is to wash the pet’s mouth thoroughly with water. It is then necessary to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.


This infomation was produced as a public service by the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association with a grant from MSD AGVET, a Division of Merck & Co., Inc. Copyright 1994 Arizona Veterinary Medical Association.




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