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Tularemia in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Tularemia (also referred to as ‘Rabbit Fever’) is a bacterial disease that’s usually mild in healthy dogs. However, this condition can prove deadly for pets with compromised immune systems. Our Flat Rock vets explain tularemia in dogs and how your pooch may contract this relatively rare disease. 

What is tularemia in dogs?

Tularemia, also known as ‘Rabbit Fever’, is a bacterial disease we see most often in rabbits, rodents and hares. It can also impact people along with wild animals. The bacteria Francisella tularensis produces toxins in the blood, causing the disease. The bacteria survive in the body by creating masses similar to tumors in the animal’s liver.

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

How can my dog get tularemia?

While it’s unusual for dogs to get tularemia, they can contract the disease in several ways, such as:

  • Consuming contaminated food or water
  • Ingesting an infected animal such as a rabbit, hare or rodent
  • Inhaling aerosolized bacteria
  • Skin-to-skin contact

Typically, dogs contract tularemia more often in the summer months, with the upsurge in tick and deer fly populations. Rabbit hunting season in winter is another popular time period.

What are symptoms of tularemia in dogs?

Most healthy canines are able to fight the infection and only exhibit mild symptoms if they become infected with the bacteria and get tularemia. Sometimes, they will even be asymptomatic.

However, if your dog has a compromised immune system (or he’s very young), the disease may develop into a serious condition. Severe symptoms of tularemia include:

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

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to give your dog the best chance of recovering from tularemia. If your pooch is displaying symptoms listed above, contact your vet as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that while these symptoms may be from tularemia, they can be caused by a wide array of other serious illnesses.

How is tularemia in dogs treated?

If your dog is diagnosed with tularemia, your vet will probably prescribe an antibiotic such as Streptomycin to assist with fighting the bacteria. Just like with other antibiotic treatments, you should provide your dog the full treatment and not skip any doses.

If treatment is stopped early because symptoms start to look like they are clearing up, this may lead to an infection flareup, which can make the disease more difficult to treat.

Humans can also contract this bacteria, so it’s critical to protect yourself from the disease while you care for your dog by quickly and safely disposing of his feces (if possible, wear gloves during the process). Practice hygiene diligently and remember to wash your hands with soap thoroughly and frequently.

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 showing signs of tularemia? We offer both primary veterinary care and emergency services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. contact our office today to book an appointment. Our compassionate vets are experienced in diagnosing and treating a number of illnesses and conditions.

Tularemia in Dogs, Flat Rock Vet

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