Tularemia in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Also known as 'Rabbit Fever', the bacterial disease tularemia is typically mild in healthy dogs. However, for immune compromised pets, it may be deadly. Our Greensboro vets describe symptoms of tularemia, and how dogs can become infected with this relatively rare disease. 

What is tularemia in dogs?

Also known as ‘Rabbit Fever’, the bacterial disease tularemia is most often seen in rodents, rabbits and hares, but can impact wild and domestic animals as well as people.

The disease is caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis, which produces toxins in the blood. The bacteria thrive in the body by creating masses similar to tumors in an animal’s liver.

Francisella tularensis bacteria has been seen across the United States (in all states except Hawaii), Canada and Mexico.

How can my dog get tularemia?

While it’s unusual for dogs to get tularemia, they may contract the disease in a few different ways, including:

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

What are symptoms of tularemia in dogs?

Many canines may become infected with the bacteria that causes tularemia, but most healthy dogs are able to fight the infection and will experience only mild symptoms. Sometimes, they will even be asymptomatic.

However, if your dog has a compromised immune system (or your puppy is very young), there’s a risk the disease may develop into a serious condition. These are severe symptoms of tularemia:

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

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to helping your dog recover from tularemia. If your pooch is displaying any symptoms listed above, contact your vet right away.

Keep in mind that while these may be signs of tularemia they may also be symptoms of another serious illness.

How is tularemia in dogs treated?

At Friendly Animal Clinic, we use advanced diagnostic veterinary technology in an in-house lab to perform tests and get same-day results. This allows your vet to accurately and efficiently diagnose your pet's condition, and begin treatment sooner. 

If your vet diagnoses your dog with tularemia, he or she will likely prescribe an antibiotic such as Streptomycin to assist in fighting the bacteria. Remember to complete the full course of antibiotics and not to skip any doses.

If treatment is stopped earlier than prescribed because your dog’s symptoms appear to clear up, this can lead to a flareup in infection, making the disease more difficult to treat.

Because the bacteria is able to infect people as well, it’s critical to protect yourself from the disease while caring for your dog by quickly and safely disposing of your pup’s feces. If possible, wear gloves while you do so. While caring for your dog, practice hygiene vigilantly. Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and frequently.

Do you think your dog may have tularemia? Our Greensboro vets are experienced in diagnosing and treating a range of conditions and illnesses in pets. Contact our Greensboro animal clinic today to book an examination.

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 you're concerned about? Our vets are experienced in diagnosing and treating a range of conditions and illnesses in pets. Contact our Greensboro animal clinic today to book an examination with our internal medicine vets.

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