Valley Fever Cases on the Rise

Signs of Valley Fever are increasing in pets throughout Arizona, New Mexico, southwestern Texas and the central deserts of California. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around 30-60% of people who live in these endemic areas are exposed to the fungus at some point in their lives, meaning your pet has the same likelihood of exposure as you do.

Caused by inhaling a fungus found in soil, Valley Fever (CAnimal Hospital Arizonaoccidioidomycosis) initially infects the lungs of your pet and may disseminate to other areas of the body such as to the organs and bones. Your pets may show no signs of infection; however those who cannot naturally fight off the infection will typically exhibit flu-like symptoms. If you notice your pet is lethargic, feverish, coughing, and shows a lack of appetite, have him/her seen by a veterinarian immediately.

“Valley Fever is causing real health problems for many people living in the southwestern United States,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Because fungus particles spread through the air, it’s nearly impossible to completely avoid exposure to this fungus in these hardest-hit states. It’s important that people are aware of Valley Fever if they live in or have travelled to the southwest United States.” Like humans, pets are highly susceptible to inhaling these floating fungus particles, especially if your pet spends large amounts of time outdoors or likes to dig.

This recent increase in Valley Fever could be related to changes in weather, which could impact where the fungus grows and how much of it is circulating; higher numbers of new residents or changes in the way the disease is detected and reported to the states or CDC.

The only way to determine if your pet has in fact contracted Valley Fever is through a full panel blood test. Not every pet that gets Valley Fever requires treatment, but for those pets at risk for more severe forms of infection, it is important they receive an early diagnosis and complete veterinary care.

Now is the time to have your pet tested for Valley Fever.  A variety of Arizona animal hospital locations throughout the state will be offering 20% off a full or re-check blood panel with an exam through August 31st.  After the exam, you will be advised if screening for valley fever would be recommended for your pet based on history, lifestyle, and exam findings.  Click here to find the most convenient veterinarian in your area and check to see if they are offering this promotion.

Watch out for Leptospirosis

Star, a seemingly healthy 9 year old Boston terrier, had been unable to retain food for the last 24 hours.  After being examined at Caton Crossing Animal Hospital in Plainfield, Dr. Heather Stopinkski delivered the troubling news to Star’s family: Star may have leptospirosis.

An often fatal and contagious bacterial infection, leptospirosis is transmitted through the urine of livestock and wildlife, such as raccoons, skunks, and rats.  In a recent study, 60% of raccoons were found to be infected with the bacteria.

Infection typically occurs when dogs drink from streams, ponds, or stagnant water where infected wildlife may have urinated.  Dr. Stopinkski warns, even if the dog walks through contaminated water, there is a chance the bacteria can enter through a cut on the paw.

Cats are naturally resistant to this bacterial infection, however it is possible for dogs to pass leptospirosis on to their human owners should they come in contact with the dog’s urine.  The infection is becoming more common in humans, with almost 200 cases of leptospirosis diagnosed each year.

Dr. Stopinski cautions even handling an infected dog with a cut on your hand or touching the dog and then putting something in your mouth can transmit the infection, which is just as dangerous to humans as it is to dogs.

Although symptoms may take a few days to manifest from initial infection, warning symptoms to look for in your pet include fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting.  Typically, within the next few days following these initial symptoms, the dog will become lethargic, followed quickly by kidney and liver failure. Even if treated early enough, and the infected dog survives, Dr. Stopinksi has noticed the chance of permanent damage to the dog’s kidneys and liver remains high.

There has been an increase in infections in suburban areas due to the building of houses and resulting destruction of wildlife environment.  Dr. Stopinski realizes dogs now have a greater chance of contact with wildlife, and are thus becoming exposed more often. 

Fifteen years ago, the vaccine guarding against leptospirosis only protected against two strains of bacteria and caused adverse reactions such as vomiting, diarrhea, and breaking out in hives.  Today’s vaccine provides better coverage against the bacterial infection with fewer negative side effects.

Typically, puppies receive two injections given two to four weeks apart once they have reached 12 weeks old.  Dr. Stopinski suggests evaluating older dogs for the vaccine on a case-by-case basis depending on their exposure to wildlife and their present health conditions

Treatment for leptospirosis is aggressive, especially if the dog’s kidneys and liver have already failed.  Treatment includes hospitalization, antibiotics, and intravenous fluids.

Unfortunately for Star, the Boston terrier, treatment did little to cure the infection and she continued to decline in health.  The pain became unbearable and Star’s family made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize Star to alleviate her suffering.

It is important to talk with your veterinarian to determine if your dog runs the risk of contracting leptospirosis.  Get your dogs vaccinated against leptospirosis to protect your health and theirs.

Anorexia in cats

Anorexic CatAnorexia, which is a very reduced or complete lack of appetite, can be very serious in cats states Dr. Amanda Maus, at Catalina Pet Hospital in Tucson, Arizona. Decreased appetite can have many causes including fever, intestinal disease, organ disease, or cancer. In addition to whatever the primary cause of the anorexia may be, several days of not eating well can cause what is called fatty liver disease or hepatic lipidosis. Even a few weeks of just eating 25-50% less than usual can lead to this state.

Fatty liver disease, although more common in obese cats, can happen in any cat suffering from anorexia and weight loss, and is the most common type of liver disease seen in cats. Jaundice or yellowing of the skin is commonly seen with this disease. This disease can also cause significant nausea leading to more anorexia and vomiting. Affected cats are often lethargic and dehydrated as well.

Quick veterinary intervention is needed for this disease and most cats will recover with appropriate treatment. The main objective is to remedy the underlying cause as well as to control the nausea and vomiting and to provide proper nutrition. Advanced cases often require the placement of a tube from outside the neck, into the esophagus, so that adequate feeding can be provided without trying to perform oral force feeding. Daily oral force feeding can not only lead to resentment of the caretaker, but also causes worse food aversion. The feeding tube may need to be left in place for up to 2 months in severe cases. In addition to antinausea medication, the cat may also require hydration therapy, electrolyte and vitamin supplementation, and liver support medications.

As you can see, anorexia in cats can be very serious and lead to severe consequences. Daily monitoring of your cat’s food intake can make a huge difference in catching diseases early on. Unexplained weight loss in cats is never acceptable. Early intervention is not only better for the cat’s health, but also can be less costly for the owner.

A happy reunion for Tanner

TannerTanner, a very friendly six-year-old pug mix, was brought in to Best Friends Animal Hospital in Chambersburg, PA after he was discovered walking alongside a nearby road. He was scanned to see if he had a microchip and sure enough he did! As a result, the clinic was able to locate Tanner’s family in Maryland.

The family expressed to the clinic that he had been missing for nearly 3.5 years. As you can imagine, when they came to the clinic to see the pug, it was a very special reunion indeed. The video of their reunion was posted on the clinic’s Facebook page and received an incredible amount of exposure with close to 300 “likes” and 60 re-posts. Click here to watch footage!

With such a positive ending, this is great enforcement to all pet owners out there on the importance of microchipping.

Welcome Home, Tanner!


The dangers of Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a serious bacterial disease that infects dogs, horses and small wildlife.  It is a life threatening zoonotic disease, or a veterinary disease that can also infect humans.  When an infected animal urinates or salivates on their environment, which may include your lawn, they leave enough bacteria to be infectious if ingested by your pets, states Mary Jean Calvi, LVT, at Pawling Animal Hospital in Pawling, NY.

Often referred to as “Lepto,” it is most often acquired through accidental ingestion of infected urine. However, the bacteria can also enter the body through open wounds, abrasions or mucus membranes in the eyes of nose.  The signs and symptoms of Lepto mimic signs of many other diseases which is why immediate diagnosis is important.  These symptoms include fever, lethargy, GI upset, loss of appetite, joint pain, nausea, excessive drinking, general malaise, jaundice, yellow foamy vomit, dark or bloody urine or unusual “accidents” in the house.

Prevention is the best medicine. Vaccinating your pet against Lepto can make a difference.  Make sure you talk to your vet about this important vaccine.


The Spirit of Giving Back: Wylie’s Story

All of us in veterinary medicine have surely experienced many a story of success, of happy outcomes we’ve seen in the clinic. Rarely, however, do remarkable “coincidences” with clinic staff, community, and perhaps even fate, work together so remarkably as they did in Wylie’s case.

Wylie, a lively Jack Russell terrier, was thrown from his owner’s vehicle when it was involved in an accident on I-15, the interstate that runs through Pocatello, ID. Wylie actually lost the bottom half of a hind leg in the accident and apparently escaped the scene in a panic. Remarkably, he did not bleed to death, and equally remarkably, managed to survive in the hills for four days.

The terrier was discovered by caring residents not far from the interstate, and from there a Pocatello Animal Control officer brought him to Alta Animal Hospital, where I practice. Wylie was not in good shape, but seemed to understand that he was there to be helped. With the assistance of my dedicated staff, I amputated the remaining mangled portion of his leg. We watched in awe as he handled all of this with courage, resilience, and even when he could, a wagging tail.

During his stay at our hospital, the rest of this story unfolded. Wylie belonged to a family which was driving past Pocatello on their way to a memorial service for the owner’s brother who had committed suicide – a sad enough situation made even worse by the accident. Officers at the scene told the family there was no way that Wylie could have survived, but the two young daughters never gave up hope. With their mom still in the hospital due to injuries she sustained, they called area clinics and shelters in the days after the accident, hoping against hope that someone had found Wylie. In fact, the family had called us at Alta Animal Hospital even before we had seen Wylie. But as soon as Wylie was brought to Alta, I was re-connected with his family and able to pass on the happy news that Wylie had survived and was going to be OK!

The family was concerned about their ability to pay for the costs of Wylie’s care, so my staff and I looked for solutions (as veterinarians so often do). I donated my surgery time, and we decided to share his story with the local newspaper. The newspaper printed the story, and mentioned that we were accepting donations at the clinic to help Wylie’s family with his remaining medical costs. No sooner than the story appeared, our phones began to ring with individuals making donations. Soon, caring folks from the area even began to arrive at the clinic to donate in person! In fact, the donations eventually exceeded the costs, and thus a “Wylie Fund” has been established. This fund awaits another pet in need.

Meanwhile, Wylie recovered nicely and everyone at Alta fell in love with the perky, loving little fellow! A week or so later, Wylie’s family made the trip back to pick him up. What an emotional reunion it was! The staff and I were elated to see Wylie all wags and wiggles upon seeing his family, but so sad to see him go – we’d grown attached. I confess that I got a little teary-eyed when I saw him so happily reunited with his family.
My staff and I will miss Wylie and his bright, upbeat view of the world, but I am especially called to appreciate the many individuals in this community who stepped forward to find Wylie, bring him to Alta for care, and assist his family with the costs. Wylie’s case demonstrates that positive “coincidences” and community involvement can bring wonderful outcomes.

Submitted by,

Kirsten M. Nickisch, DVM
1601 Bannock Highway
Pocatello, ID 83204