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Published May 06, 2011, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Ailment may be treatable

Dear Dr. Fox: My sister bought a yellow Lab pup from a breeder in Tucson, Ariz., in September. He has just been diagnosed with valley fever. Could you please tell what kind of life we can expect for this dog? He is on medication.

By: Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: My sister bought a yellow Lab pup from a breeder in Tucson, Ariz., in September. He has just been diagnosed with valley fever. Could you please tell what kind of life we can expect for this dog? He is on medication. – G.B., North Wilkesboro, N.C.

Dear G.B.: Valley fever (or coccidiomycosis) is a fungal infection that initially settles in the lungs and then spreads to the lymphatics, bones and other organs (including eyes and brain). It is derived from spores in the soil that are spread by dust storms and dirt-digging construction by land developers, especially in desert areas. After rain, the fungus migrates to the soil surface, turning into spores that are carried by the wind.

Valley fever can occur in most mammals (including humans) and in some reptiles. It is more common in dogs than in cats. Infected animals do not pass the disease onto others. In some cases, the infection begins in the skin.

Ketoconazole (or itraconazole) is the preferred medication. Treatment should be continued for at least two months after symptoms clear up, but may be needed for several more months. Periodic checking of the dog’s liver function and blood tests to determine response to treatment are advisable. Progress is generally poor for animals with disseminated disease, but good if localized in the lungs only.

Dear Dr. Fox: We live on a narrow, one-block street of seven houses, two facing west and five facing east. The houses looking east face the backyards of the people on the parallel street. There are four dogs, three in the backyards facing us, and one on our side of the street.

At times, the barking continues for almost an hour and, of course, the dogs echo one another. These neighbors unfortunately do not walk their dogs and don’t seem to interact with them, at least not when the animals are outside. The dogs bark at anything and everything when they are in their yards.

I want to know if you approve of the bark collar referred to in the enclosed article. – E.C.S., Monmouth Beach, N.J.

Dear E.C.S.: I approve of bark collars that give a buzzing vibration rather than an actual electrical shock whenever a dog barks. I also approve of the citronella spray that is triggered on the collar when the dog barks. These devices generally work well when the dogs are outdoors and tend to bark and disturb neighbors. Indoors, anti-bark sensors that emit a high-frequency sound can also be effective. But with most of these devices, loud sounds other than the dog’s bark can trigger them, which can be stressful to the poor dog.

There is no substitute for appropriate human attention and training dogs not to bark on command. Most municipalities have ordinances that limit dogs’ barking outdoors – you should inquire about this in your community.

Far too many people think it’s OK to let their dogs out into their yards unsupervised. When their dogs bark and disturb their neighbors, the owners should be informed; otherwise, they’ll continue to think there isn’t a problem.

Dear Dr. Fox: I have a cat that has been through seven months of medical issues. It started with an infected tooth extraction during whole-mouth dental cleaning and a thyroidectomy, which the vet suggested because thyroid medication was not effective. They also removed her parathyroid during surgery because it looked “suspicious.” After three months of calcium supplements to regulate her calcium levels, which were severely affected by the surgery, they diagnosed a urinary-tract infection that had gone to her kidneys.

After three ultrasounds and three rounds of six-week-long antibiotics, the kidneys were reported to be free of infection. However, during the last ultrasound, it was determined that her heart was not working properly so she is now on a transdermal heart medication. It is suggested that she have an echogram in six months to check the heart.

Needless to say, this has been an extremely expensive (about $4,000) and stressful time for both my cat and me. I am told that once a kidney infection has occurred there is greater chance of recurrence.

Can you provide any insight into all of this? Should I do the echogram in six months, which will be another $400? My cat is about 9 years old. I got her as a stray. – S.H., Lagrangeville, N.Y.

Dear S.H.: I deeply sympathize with your sad saga, and you are not alone. Many cat and dog owners get caught in the costly spiral of diagnostics and treatments when their animals go into a cascade of one health problem after another.

From your letter, I have serious questions about the diagnoses and treatments provided and urge you to seek a second opinion with a feline specialist. If no questions were asked about what you have been feeding your cat, I would certainly get a second opinion. Kidney, heart and other health problems call for special diets and beneficial supplements, and if there was no discussion of this, then you certainly should go to another veterinary clinic.

Advanced diagnostic equipment and procedures are expensive for providers and can mean oversell and overreliance, leading to spiraling costs in both human and veterinary medicine. The net result is that those who cannot afford such services buy into dubious pet health-insurance schemes or worse. Animals are either not taken to a veterinarian when in need of professional attention or are sent to an animal shelter because their owners cannot afford proper care.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at