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Tularemia 'Rabbit Fever' in Dogs

Posted in Pet Care Tips, Dogs, Illness/Disease

Tularemia or 'Rabbit Fever' is a bacterial disease that is typically mild in healthy dogs, but can be deadly for pets that are immune compromised. Today our vets share a few facts about tularemia and how your dog could contract this relatively rare disease.

What is tularemia?

Tularemia, also known as 'Rabbit Fever' is a bacterial disease which occurs most often in rabbits, hares and rodents but can affect people as well as wild and domestic animals. The disease is caused by toxins in the blood which are produced by a bacteria called Francisella tularensis. The bacteria survives in the animal's body by creating tumor-like masses in the animal's liver. 

This bacteria has been reported across the United States (all states except Hawaii), Canada, and Mexico.

How can my dog get tularemia?

Although it is unusual for dogs to get tularemia, the disease can be transmitted to dogs in a number of ways including:

  • Consuming contaminated water or food;
  • Being bitten by an infected insect such as fleas, ticks and mosquitoes;
  • Ingesting an infected animal such as a rabbit, hare, or rodent;
  • Inhalation of aerosolized bacteria;
  • Skin to skin contact. 

Rates of tularemia infections in dogs are typically higher in the summer months when tick and deer fly populations are on the upsurge, and during winter rabbit hunting season. 

What are the symptoms of tularemia in dogs?

While it may be the case that many dogs become infected with the bacteria, most healthy dogs are able to fight the infection and only display mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. That said, if a your dog has a compromised immune system (or is very young) the disease can become serious. Severe symptoms of tularemia include:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal pain
  • Skin Ulcer
  • White patches on the tongue
  • Organ failure
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen or painful lymph nodes
  • Throat infection
  • Jaundice
  • Enlarged Spleen or liver

Early diagnosis and treatment are important when it comes to recover from tularemia. If your dog shows signs of any of the symptoms listed above contact your vet as soon as possible. Keep in mind that while these symptoms could indicate tularemia they could also be a sign of another serious illness affecting your dog's health.

What is the treatment for tularemia in dogs?

If your dog is diagnosed with tularemia you vet will most likely prescribe an antibiotic such as Streptomycin to help combat the bacteria. As with all antibiotic treatments it is essential to complete the full treatment and not skip any doses. Stopping treatment early because the symptoms appear to clear up, can cause the infection to flare up and make the disease harder to treat.

This bacteria can be passed to humans! It is also essential to protect yourself from this disease while you are caring for your pet. Quickly dispose of your dog's feces, and wear gloves during this process if possible. Also, stay vigilant about hygiene practices while caring for your pet, be sure to wash your hands with soap thoroughly and frequently.

If you think that your dog has contracted tularemia contact a PetVet Care Center near you, to book an appointment with one of our vets.

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