Tularemia 'Rabbit Fever' in Dogs

Tularemia (also known as ‘Rabbit Fever’) is a bacterial disease which is usually mild in healthy dogs. However, it can prove deadly for immune compromised pets. Our South Charlotte vets explain tularemia and how dogs can contract this relatively rare disease. 


What is tularemia?

Tularemia, also referred to as ‘Rabbit Fever’, is a bacterial disease that’s seen most often in rabbits, hares and rodents, but may impact people in addition to domestic and wild animals. A bacteria called Francisella tularensis produces toxins in the blood, which causes the disease. By creating masses similar to tumors in the animal’s liver, the bacteria survive in the body.

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

How can my dog get tularemia?

It’s unusual for dogs to get tularemia, but they can contract the disease in a number of ways, including:

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

Dogs typically contract tularemia at higher rates in the summer months, when deer fly and tick populations are surging, and during rabbit hunting season in winter.

What are symptoms of tularemia in dogs?

While many dogs may become infected with the bacteria, most healthy canines are able to fight the infection and only mild symptoms will appear.

Sometimes, they will not even have any symptoms. However, if your dog’s immune system is compromised (or your dog is very young), the disease can develop into a serious condition. Severe symptoms of tularemia are as follows:

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

When it comes to recovering from tularemia, early diagnosis and treatment are key. If your dog is showing any symptoms listed above, contact your vet as soon as possible. Remember, while these symptoms may indicate tularemia, they could also be a sign of another serious illness.

How is tularemia in dogs treated?

If your dog receives a diagnosis of tularemia, your vet will likely prescribe an antibiotic, such as Streptomycin, to help fight the bacteria. As with all antibiotic treatments, you should complete the full treatment - don’t skip any doses.

If treatment is stopped early because symptoms appear to clear up, this can cause a flare up in infection and the disease may become more difficult to treat.

Humans can contract this bacteria, so it’s critical to protect yourself from the disease while caring for your dog. Quickly and safely dispose of your dogs feces. Wear gloves during this process if possible. You should also stay vigilant regarding hygiene practices while caring for your dog. Remember to wash your hands with soap frequently and thoroughly.

Do you think your dog may have tularemia? Our South Charlotte veterinarians have experience in diagnosing and treating a range of illnesses and conditions in pets. Contact us at Sharon Lakes Animal Hospital to book an appointment today.

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