Dog paralyzed by valley fever gets back on her feet

Canine valley fever, also known as desert fever, a fungal disease, affects one dog's vertebrae and spinal cord, making her unable to stand up or walk.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Want to have a life-affirming experience? Simply watch Audrey go for a stroll through Dogtown. The friendly grey-and-white dog is eager and excited as she sets off on a short trail walk. Her ears are up, her tail is wagging, and her legs are moving smoothly over the sand.

Just a few months ago, Audrey couldn’t walk at all. Last July, she was so sick that no one knew if she would live, let alone walk again. It would take a village and a whole lot of determination on her part to bring her back from the brink and make her the strong, happy dog she is today.

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Caregiver Paul carrying Audrey the dog

What is valley fever in dogs?

Audrey found herself in a shelter in California before she came to the Sanctuary through a Best Friends Network partner. Besides having some arthritis and pain in one of her front legs, she was suffering from canine valley fever — a fungal disease that dogs can get from a spore living in the ground. Because the spores are more common in dry, arid regions of the United States, the condition is sometimes called desert fever.

Since they explore the world through their noses, dogs are at risk of inhaling the spore. Fortunately, not all dogs who breathe it in will get sick. Those animals with healthy immune systems who inhale it may only show mild signs and symptoms of valley fever, such as a cough, loss of appetite or lack of energy. That’s because their bodies successfully fight off the infection in the lungs where it begins — before it spreads to other parts of the body.

When a dog’s immune system can’t fight off the infection before it spreads, things can get much more serious. That’s what happened with Audrey: Her vertebrae and spinal cord were affected, making her unable to walk or even stand up. She had also become incontinent and needed help going to the bathroom and staying comfortable and clean. The poor dog was miserable and needed a miracle.

Caregiver Paul lying on the floor on a blanket next to Audrey the dog

Treating canine valley fever

When she arrived at the Sanctuary, Audrey went straight to the Best Friends Animal Clinic, where the vets worked hard to save her life by giving her supportive care and dog valley fever medication (an antifungal medication) to treat the infection. They also treated her pain and did everything they could to make her more comfortable. Over the next few days and weeks, Audrey began to feel much better. She rallied with an incredible spirit, and every day she showed how patient and loving she is.

The valley fever cure takes time, and a lot of damage had already been done to Audrey’s body. She couldn’t walk without the help of a wheelchair or someone supporting her back end in a sling. Only time would tell if her body could recover and if she would ever be able to use her back legs again.

Caregiver Paul with Audrey the dog in a canine wheelchair

The Best Friends veterinary team saw that Audrey had the strength and courage necessary to get back on her feet and move on to live a full and happy life. As soon as she felt well enough, she began a physical therapy regimen that would help her regain some of her lost mobility. Through it all, Audrey continued to be an excellent patient.

“Since she arrived, Audrey has been so trusting and tolerant of whatever we asked of her,” says Kelsie Linneweber, a Best Friends vet tech. “She is a bright spot in my day when I get to work with her, because no matter her circumstances she remains happy and determined — not to mention, she gives the best kisses.”

Audrey the dog doing physical therapy on a big ball, trying to get up to reach a treat held by a woman

Audrey the dog receiving an acupuncture treatment

A turning point in a dog’s recovery

Since Audrey was looking at months of recovery and physical therapy, the veterinary team, along with Best Friends foster specialist Erin Steen, found Audrey a loving foster home.

“I went to the clinic to meet her for myself and she pulled herself over to me and put her big head in my hands and just stared at me with those soul-searching eyes,” says Erin. “I knew from then on I was going to do everything in my power to help that pup. I’ll never forget her medical appointments: The exam room was always crowded with her fans, and she’d go from person to person making sure everyone gave her pets. She’s a very special dog.”

Person petting Audrey the dog on the top of her head

Though Audrey still had frequent check-ups at the clinic, and veterinarians and vet techs continued to help with her physical therapy, she was able to enjoy the comforts of a home and lots of one-on-one time with her foster mother in between her appointments.

Audrey the dog using a canine wheelchair, at the clinic with Kelsie and Dr. Nova

While Audrey was in her foster home, she also began doing hydrotherapy in a local lake. The first time she went into the water she seemed a bit surprised and confused, but then after a few minutes, something clicked.

That’s when it happened: Audrey began moving her back legs in the water. She was swimming, and it was a major turning point. At that moment, Audrey proved once again that she was not only capable of recovering, but that she also had the will and the strength to do it.

Audrey the black and white dog swimming in the reservoir for physical therapy

Great strides for a dog surviving desert fever

The hydrotherapy sessions fast-tracked Audrey’s progress, and soon she was able to push herself up into a standing position. Then came the day when she took her first few wobbly steps. She had lost so muscle tone in her hind end that it was easier to pull herself around with her strong front legs and drag her back legs behind. But Audrey was determined to walk. And she did.

Audrey isn’t quite ready to run races. She’s still building up her strength and needs to rest after short walks. But with lifesaving medical care, rehabilitation and TLC — combined with her own dogged determination — she's already made great strides. With every step and every day, she just keeps getting better.

Two men walking with Audrey and Sid the dogs in a creek

With a little extra help from Dogtown caregivers, Audrey is living a happy life at the Sanctuary, which she’ll call home until she is adopted. “She is a beautiful and special dog, and I know there’s a special person out there for her,” says Dogtown caregiver Jon Slater. “It’s just a matter of getting those two special beings together.”

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Two volunteers walking Audrey the dog, without a wheelchair needed

Photos by Molly Wald