Information

Tularemia (Rabbit Fever) in Cats


Tularemia is a rare but potentially fatal disease that occurs in wild and domestic animals. Rabbits and wild rodents are the primary species affected (hence the nickname) but other species, including humans, can also contract the disease.

Dogs do become infected with the causative organism, but it appears that resulting illness, if it occurs, is symptomless or mild. On the other hand, domestic cats are very susceptible to tularemia and have been known to transmit the bacteria to humans. It’s also important to note that cats don’t need to be clinically sick in order to transmit the disease.

What causes tularemia?
Tularemia is caused by a bacterium — Francisella tularensis — that’s present all over the world. In the United States, cases of tularemia have been reported in all states except Hawaii. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2012, most of the human cases reported were in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas. The bacteria is highly infectious — entering the body via skin, eyes, mouth, throat or lungs; by ingestion, inhalation and even by drinking contaminated water.

How would your cat get tularemia?
According to the Center for Food Security & Public Health, the bacterium that causes tularemia can be found in the organs or body fluids of infected animals. Once in the environment, the organisms can survive for long periods of time (weeks to months) in the soil, vegetation or water and then serve as a source of infection for other animals or humans. Animals typically get tularemia by ingesting contaminated food (raw meat from infected animals) or by drinking contaminated water. They can also inhale the aerosolized bacteria, have it enter their bodies through mucus membranes or breaks/cuts in skin, or become infected by biting flies or ticks.

What are the symptoms of tularemia in cats?
As is the case with other susceptible species, the signs of a tularemia infection can vary remarkably; they range from no signs at all, to mild fever and enlarged lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy) to death. When they’re sick, cats may also be anorexic, dehydrated, or listless with ulcers, abscesses, jaundice, pneumonia and/or enlargement of their livers or spleens.

How is tularemia diagnosed and treated?
If your veterinarian is suspicious that your cat might have tularemia, she’ll want to run special serologic blood tests looking for antibodies against the bacteria. Unfortunately, because it takes time for your cat’s immune system to mount a detectable response, these tests may not be diagnostic during the first few weeks of illness. A definitive diagnosis can also be made if the organism can be cultured from tissue specimens on special culture media.

Once infection with tularemia is diagnosed or suspected, antibiotics are usually effective in treating the illness — especially when given early in the disease. Recovery from the infection does produce long-lasting immunity.

According to MERCK, efforts are underway to develop safe and effective vaccines for pets and people.

What can you do to prevent tularemia infection?
The only way to completely protect your cat from infection is to keep him free of ticks and other biting insects. Also, keep him indoors away from the opportunity to hunt or to encounter the organism in the environment. It’s important, however, to remember that you are also at risk. The most common source of infection for people is the bite of an infected tick so take care when gardening, clearing weeds/brush or even mowing lawns.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.


PLAGUE

Plague is caused by Yersinia pestis , a gram-negative, non-motile rod-shaped coccobacillus. It is a facultative, intracellular pathogen. Rodents are the reservoir hosts for plague. Infection in a rodent population is transmitted by infected fleas. Plague can infect most mammals although susceptibility to infection varies by species. Transmission in pets most often occurs due to ingestion of an infected rodent or carcass. It can also be transmitted to cats and dogs by infected rodent fleas. Dog and cat fleas ( Ctenocephalides spp ) are considered poor vectors for plague. Exposure to an animal with the pneumonic form can lead to transmission via inhalation. The bacteria is sensitive to desiccation and heat but can survive in water, soil, and carcassess for weeks to months, thus environmental exposure represents another possible route of exposure. Once infected, the incubation period is usually less than one week.

Cats appear to be more susceptible to plague than dogs. As seen in humans, plague may present with three clinical forms in cats. The bubonic form is most common. Cats with this form demonstrate lethargy, anorexia, fever, and lymphadenopathy. In the septic form, cats may or may not demonstrate lymphadenopathy but may be profoundly ill with signs of sepsis or septic shock, including lethargy, fever, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, tachycardia, poor pulses, and hypotension. Either one of these forms may also be associated with the pneumonic form in which pulmonary involvement manifests with coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, and/or dyspnea. The latter two forms are more likely to be fatal.

In dogs, clinical signs are more variable and often milder but can be severe and even fatal. It is important to note that the pneumonic form carries the highest risk of transmission to the veterinary staff.

Potential blood work and radiographic abnormalities are similar to those noted previously for tularemia. Cats with the septicemic form of plague may also have evidence of hypotension, disseminated intravascular coagulation, multi-organ dysfunction, and/or acute respiratory distress syndrome. Thoracic radiographs should be performed in all cases where plague is considered possible as the potential human health ramifications of the pneumonic form are severe. Diffuse interstitial to coalescing infiltrates may be seen with the pneumonic form of plague.

As mentioned previously, any cat or dog with potentially consistent clinical signs should be tested for both diseases. The same samples being tested for tularemia can be tested for plague. Please refer to the Tularemia Diagnostics section for more information.

Unlike F tularensis , Yersinia pestis can also sometimes be identified on cytologic examination of infected fluid, including LN aspirates, sputum, blood, or CSF. Y pestis can also be more readily cultured than F tularensis . Again, extreme caution must be taken when collecting and submitting samples from patients suspected to have either of these diseases.

Patients who are plague suspects or have confirmed plague must be strictly isolated with all precautions taken to contain spread of infection, as with tularemia. Additionally, a respirator should be worn with a patient suspected of having the pneumonic form of plague as there is a real hazard of transmission to humans due to aerosolized particles.

Some cats, particularly those with the septicemic and pneumonic forms, may require intensive 24-hour supportive care. Patients should be hospitalized and isolated for the first 2-4 days of treatment. After that time they are considered no longer infectious.

Treatment for plague consists of antibiotic therapy as described for tularemia. In addition to the antibiotics noted previously, TMS can also be administered for plague. Duration of treatment is 10-21 days. Patients with possible or confirmed plague should be treated immediately for fleas as should any other animals in the household.

Owner Awareness & Prevention

Owners of patients with possible or confirmed tularemia or plague should be advised of its zoonotic nature. They should monitor other pets for clinical signs. If they themselves fall ill, they should seek medical evaluation and advise their doctor of the possibility of tularemia or plague. If tularemia or plague is confirmed, a course of prophylactic antibiotics, such as doxycycline, may be warranted for other exposed pets.

Prevention of these diseases in cats and dogs entails a restriction on roaming and hunting behavior and flea/tick prevention for all household pets. There is not a vaccine available for either of these diseases for domestic pets. The majority of human tularemia cases result from inhalation of aerosolized rabbit feces which are kicked up during mowing or gardening and from tick bites or other vector borne exposure. A minority of cases are due to contact with infected animals.

The majority of cases of plague in humans emanate from infected flea bites with the remaining cases due to contact with an infected carcass or infected animal. It is recommended that people with pets who roam in plague endemic areas not allow pets to reside in the bedroom or sleep in their bed as this serves as a common source for contact with fleas. Both tularemia and plague are reportable diseases and if suspected or diagnosed in a patient, should be reported immediately to the Colorado Department of Health.

*Both tularemia and plague are present in Colorado. Plague specifically has been identified in our region of Colorado in 2017. The likelihood of contracting these diseases is highest in the summer months.

*Cats who roam and hunt are at the highest risk for infection.

*Infection with tularemia or plague should be considered for any cat or dog that presents with fever, especially if they also demonstrate lymphadenopathy.

*Diagnosis can be achieved through the CDPHE lab or CSU DL.

*Antibiotic therapy should be initiated immediately after diagnostic sample acquisition.

*The patient should be kept in isolation and handled with strict biohazard precautionary measures until 2-3 days after initiation of appropriate antibiotic therapy.

To learn more about Dr. Fleischman, our internal medicine departments in Boulder and Longmont, our other doctors and services, upcoming events, or to schedule a Lunch & Learn or Meet & Greet, please contact Maya Key at [email protected] .

References and further reading:

Berman-Booty LD, Cui J, Horvath SJ, Premanandan p: Pathology in practice. Tularemia . J Am Vet Med Assoc 2010 Vol 237 (2) pp. 163-5.

CO Department of Health and Environment Website www.colorado.gov/cdphe


Center for Disease Control Website www.cdc.gov


Green, CE. 2013. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Nichols MC, Ettestad PJ, VinHatton ES, Melman SD, Onischuk L, Pierce EA, and Aragon AS. Yersinia pestis infection in dogs: 62 cases (2003-2011). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2014 , 244(10):1176-1180


Pennisi, M.G. et al. Francisella Tularensis Infection in Cats ABCD guidelines on prevention and management. J Fel Med Surg. 2013, 15: 585–587.

Referral Forms

We’ve made filling out our patient referral forms easy. When referring a patient to Aspen Meadow, be sure to submit our referral form.

Careers

We are always searching for quality, compassionate veterinary professionals to join our growing team.

Contact Us

Call us today to book a consultation with one of our specialists or if your pet is experiencing an emergency, just come on in!


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.


Tularemia 'Rabbit Fever' in Dogs

Tularemia (also know as 'Rabbit Fever') is a bacterial disease that is typically mild in healthy dogs, but can be deadly for pets that are immune compromised. Today our Mooresville vets share a few facts about tularemia and how your dog could contract this relatively rare disease.

Tularemia - Rabbit Fever

Tularemia, also known as 'Rabbit Fever' is a bacterial disease which occurs most often in rabbits, hares and rodents but can affect people as well as wild and domestic animals including dogs. The disease is caused by toxins in the blood which are produced by a bacteria called Francisella tularensis. The bacteria survives in the animal's body by creating tumor-like masses in the animal's liver.

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

How Dogs Can Catch Tularemia

Although it is unusual for dogs to get tularemia, the disease can be transmitted to dogs in a number of ways including:

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

Vets typically see higher rates of tularemia infections in the summer months when tick and deer fly populations are on the upsurge, and during winter rabbit hunting season when dogs have an increased risk of coming in contact with infected wildlife.

Symptoms of Tularemia in Dogs

Healthy dogs that come in contact with the bacteria are likely to experience very mild or no symptoms at all. However, if a your dog is very young or has a compromised immune system the disease can become serious. Severe symptoms of tularemia can 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

Early diagnosis and treatment are important when it comes to recovery from tularemia. If your pet has any of the symptoms listed above contact your vet as soon as possible to book an examination for your dog. Keep in mind that while these symptoms could indicate tularemia they could also be a sign of another serious illness affecting your dog's health.

Treatment for Tularemia in Dogs

To treat dogs with tularemia, vets typically prescribe an antibiotic 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 appear to clear up, can cause the infection to flare up and make the disease harder to treat.

It is important to keep in mind that this bacteria can be passed to humans! Protect yourself from this disease while you are caring for your pet. Quickly dispose of your dog's feces, and wear gloves during this process if possible. Also, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water whenever you have been handling your pet.

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.


If your pooch is suffering from chronic kidney disease, feeding them the right diet is going to be a key element of their treatment. For dogs with kidney disease, our South Charlotte vets may recommend a therapeutic diet with restricted protein, phosphorus and sodium combined with increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Healthy kidneys perform a range of essential functions, dogs suffering from acute kidney failure experience a sudden and rapid decline in kidney function that requires urgent veterinary care. Today our vets explain the signs of acute kidney failure in dogs, and what you should do if your dog suddenly shows signs of kidney failure.


Watch the video: Rabbit Hunting; Tularemia and other bacteria SAFETY (July 2021).