Rabbit Fever - Tularemia in Dogs

Tularemia is a bacterial disease with symptoms that are usually mild in healthy dogs, but can be deadly for pets that are immune compromised. Our Bartlett vets share a few facts about tularemia and how your dog could contract this relatively rare disease.

What is tularemia?

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

How can my dog get tularemia?

While it is relatively unusual for dogs to contract tularemia, the disease can be transmitted to your pup in a number of ways, such as:

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

Tularemia infections are most often diagnosed in dogs during 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?

In many cases, healthy dogs become infected with the bacteria but are able to fight the infection well 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 be a serious health threat. 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

When it comes to recovering well from tularemia, early diagnosis and treatment are the key. If your dog displays signs of any of the symptoms listed above contact your vet as soon as possible. Although these symptoms could indicate tularemia they could also be a sign of other serious illnesses that may be affecting your dog's health.

What is the treatment for tularemia in dogs?

Dogs diagnosed with tularemia are typically prescribed antibiotics 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 clear up, can cause the infection to flare up and make the disease harder to treat.

Can I catch tularemia from my dog?

Yes, this bacteria can be passed to humans! 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 if possible. Also, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water whenever you come in contact with your dog.

If your dog is showing any of the symptoms of tularemia contact our Bartlett vets at Hillcrest Animal Hospital to schedule an examination for your pup. 

Tularemia in Dogs - Signs, Symptoms and Treatments, Memphis Vet

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