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Rabbit Fever - Tularemia in Dogs

Tularemia (‘Rabbit Fever’) is a bacterial disease which is usually mild in healthy dogs but can prove deadly for pets that are immune compromised. Here's more from our Cordova vets on the symptoms of Tularemia in dogs, how it is spread, and how it can be treated.

Tularemia 'Rabbit Fever'

Tularemia, frequently called ‘Rabbit Fever’, is a bacterial disease seen most often in rabbits, hares and other rodents, but that can impact people as well as domestic animals.

Rabbit fever is caused by the Francisella tularensis bacteria which produces toxins in the blood, and masses similar to tumors in the animal’s liver, where bacteria live and thrive.

The Francisella tularensis bacteria can be found across Mexico, Canada and in many parts of the United States.

How Dogs Get Tularemia

While Tularemia is relatively rare in dogs, there are a number of ways your pup could contract Rabbit Fever, including:

  • Consuming contaminated food or water
  • Skin-to-skin contact
  • Inhaling the bacteria
  • A bite from an infected insect such as a mosquito, flea or tick
  • Ingesting an infected animal such as a hare, rodent or rabbit

Higher rates of Tularemia are typically diagnosed in the summer months, when deer fly and tick populations are particularly large, and in the winter during rabbit hunting season.

Tularemia Symptoms in Dogs

Many dogs may become infected with the bacteria, but the majority of healthy pets are able to fight the infection with only mild symptoms becoming apparent. In fact, some dogs show no symptoms at all.

That said, if your pup’s immune system is compromised (or your dog is very young), the disease can become a very serious health concern. Severe symptoms of Tularemia can include:

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

To achieve the best possible treatment outcomes it's important to diagnose and treat Rabbit Fever early, before symptoms become severe. If your dog is showing any symptoms listed above, contact your vet right away to book an examination for your pup.

Although these symptoms can point to a diagnosis of Tularemia, they could also be a sign of another serious health issue.

Treatment for Dogs with Tularemia

Dogs diagnosed with Tularemia are typically treated with a round of antibiotics (such as Streptomycin) to fight the bacteria. If your dog is prescribed antibiotics for any reason, it is essential to complete the full treatment and not skip any doses. Stopping treatment early can lead a recurrence of the infection that is more challenging to treat.

Since people can also contract this bacteria, it's important to protect yourself from the disease while caring for your pooch.

  • Dispose of your dog's feces quickly and safely. Wear gloves during this process if possible.
  • Stay vigilant regarding hygiene while caring for your dog. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water whenever you touch your dog, or any toys, bowls, bedding, etc that your pet may come in contact with.

Preventing Tularemia in Dogs

Although Rabbit Fever is rare in dogs, it is a nasty bacterial disease that you will want to avoid if possible. To reduce your pup's risk of contracting Tularemia follow these basic practices:

  • Reduce the opportunities your dog has to roam freely, hunt, or chase rabbits.
  • If your dog brings home a carcass, handle it with care! Wear gloves and do your best to avoid touching it if at all possible.
  • Ensure your dog is kept up-to-date on their vaccinations and use tick preventives to reduce the risk of tick-borne disease exposure. (The Lone Star tick, dog tick and wood tick can transmit the F. tularensis bacteria).
  • Reduce your pet's exposure to ticks as much as possible.
  • If you or your dog get sick, make a point of mentioning potential exposure to rodents and rabbits to your vet and/or physician.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

Is your dog exhibiting symptoms of Tularemia? Contact our Cordova vets at Germantown Parkway Animal Hospital to book an examination for your dog.

Tularemia or Rabbit Fever in dogs - symptoms and treatments, Cordova Vet

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