Debbie Varner of Follow Your Heart Animal Rescue Hope with Debbie Varner Follow Your Heart Animal Rescue Kimberly Carrillo

Animals with valley fever are no strangers to East Valley veterinarians.

Gilbert veterinarian John Carr and Jeffrey Jenkins, an Ahwatukee veterinarian, both treat dozens of dogs with valley fever every year.

Carr estimates he treats 25 dogs a year suffering from the virus, and Jenkins said about 50 a year come into the Ahwatukee Animal Care Hospital and Pet Resort.

Dogs are more frequently diagnosed with valley fever than other animals. Cats and horses can also contract the disease, but much less often, Carr said.

“For every 100 cases we see in dogs, there’s one case of a cat,” Carr said of Warner Vista Animal Hospital.

Jenkins recalls just two cats brought to his practice that had valley fever.

Dogs seem to be more susceptible to Valley Fever than humans, Carr said, and medical experts aren’t sure why. He said the disease is six or seven times more common in dogs than people.

Veterinary schools teach about valley fever, Carr said. He learned about the disease at the Colorado veterinary school he attended. He grew up in Sierra Vista and had heard about it as a kid, too.

“Every time I see a sick dog, I think of valley fever,” Carr said. “If you’re a veterinarian in Arizona and you practice for a year and don’t diagnose valley fever, you’re doing something wrong.”

Jenkins agrees that veterinarians should always suspect valley fever.

“We’re always looking for it when we have a really sick dog,” Jenkins said.

Dogs infected with the spores usually have a cough, lose weight, experience lameness, are lethargic and have seizures. A blood test confirms the disease in dogs, just as it does in humans.

Dogs and people are treated with the same drug – fluconazole. The medication “almost always works” for dogs, Carr said. Some dogs do require the medication forever and others for years, but many are on it for only a few months. A large percentage of dogs he treats recover after being on fluconazole for three or four months, Jenkins said.

Dogs can die from valley fever.

Jenkins described fluconazole as “the drug of choice” to treat valley fever, in part because it has the fewest side effects and usually works well.

Both men said dogs usually contract valley fever in their lungs, but lately more cases of it getting into the animals’ bones have been cropping up.

How many animals have been diagnosed with valley fever isn’t known, Carr said. Doctors who diagnose it in people must report it, but veterinarians aren’t required to file similar reports.

Mesa resident Debbie Varner operates Follow Your Heart Animal Rescue. She’s taken in plenty of dogs which have valley fever.

Once the animals undergo treatment and start recovering, they are eligible for adoption. The rescue group pays for the medication after adoption, to ensure the dogs get all the needed treatment.

Fluconazole is somewhat expensive for treating animals, Jenkins said. The medicine would cost between $30 and $35 a month to treat a 50-pound dog, he said.

Some patients opt to go to a compounding pharmacy for the medication, to save money, Jenkins  said.

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