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Published: May 24, 2012

As summer heats up, pet owners may need to pay closer attention to their animals, especially if they spend a lot of time outside. While owners may know about ticks on dogs and other potential threats from outdoor play, those who live in hotter parts of the country need to be on the lookout for valley fever in dogs, according to VCA Animal Hospital.

Valley fever goes by many names, depending on the part of the country you live in. Pet owners may have heard of the condition by the monikers California disease, San Joaquin valley fever or desert rheumatism. All of these conditions are one in the same, and all are caused by a specific soil-dwelling fungus called Coccidiodes immitis.

Those in cooler climates don't have to worry as much about this problematic fungus, as it only grows in the soil in warmer regions. However, as the temperature rises in states like California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Nevada, cases of valley fever in dogs are likely to be on the rise.

Just about any type of animal can come become infected with valley fever, including humans, although it is not contagious once it has been contracted. Dogs are perhaps the most susceptible, due to their love of sniffing around and digging in the dirt. This allows dogs to breathe in a much larger amount of the fungus than other types of animals, leading to high rates of infection.

Not all dogs will succumb to valley fever just because they inhale spores. In many cases, the canine's natural immune system is enough to ward off the illness without resorting to giving medications to dogs. However, the immune system may be weakened by old age or other illnesses, or it may not have fully developed, in the case of young puppies. While healthy adult dogs have much less to fear, infection is still possible if they have a heavy exposure to the fungus.

Valley fever typically results in fever, coughing, a lack of appetite and overall lethargy in an animal. These conditions are common for other illnesses as well, so it is important you take your animal to a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis if you notice any of these signs or live in an area where valley fever is common.  Seeking treatment from a veterinary professional is important because valley fever can be life-threatening, especially if the fungus spreads outside the lungs.

Once a diagnosis is made, your vet will likely prescribe antifungal medication for your dog. This is a long course of treatment, typically lasting more than six months.  While valley fever can be cured in most dogs, some dogs will experience relapses and require long-term medication to control the disease.

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