What is Bacterial Infection (Tularemia)?
Tularemia, also known as “rabbit fever” is a zoonotic bacterial disease that can affect many varieties of mammal, including humans. Your dog may become infected through exposure to wildlife, infected domestic animals or contaminated soil or water. Incidents of tularemia tend to be higher when tick and deer fly populations are on the upsurge during summer months. This is a serious bacterial infection that can be fatal if untreated. If you suspect your dog has contracted tularemia you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Early antibiotic treatment generally leads to a positive outcome.
A zoonotic disease caused by the Francisella tularensis bacteria, this illness is contracted by exposure to contaminated animals, soil or water. This disease has a good prognosis if antibiotics are administered early on, but can be fatal if untreated.
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Symptoms of Bacterial Infection (Tularemia) in Dogs
It can be one to ten days from exposure to the bacterium before symptoms arise in your canine. Humans are also susceptible to tularemia and can be infected by their pet. Symptoms in humans are similar and if you expect that you have contracted tularemia, you should see your doctor as well for prompt treatment.
- Frequent urination
- High fever
- Reduced mobility
- Skin ulcer
- Swollen glands
- Throat infection
- Tick infestation
Although this disease can be spread at any time, incidents of tularemia tend to be higher during warmer months, when temperatures are favorable for tick outbreaks.
There are two varieties of tularemia bacteria found in the United States, Type B (Francisella tularensis biovar palearctica) and Type A (Francisella tularensis biovar tularensis). Type B is a milder form of the disease that is associated more with water contamination and aquatic mammals. Type A is the more serious of the two, and prompt medical attention is required to treat the infection.
Causes of Bacterial Infection (Tularemia) in Dogs
Tularemia is a zoonotic bacterial disease caused by a bacterium in the Francisella Tularemia family. It is also known as “rabbit fever” as rabbits and squirrels are particularly efficient propagators of tularemia.
Zoonotic diseases can affect a large variety of mammals and can be transferred from one species to another. This means that it can be passed on to not only other canines in the household, but also to other pets as well as human family members.
Common infection methods include:
- Contact with an infected animal or animal carcass
- Contaminated soil
- Contaminated water
- Inhalation of aerosolized bacteria
- Skin to skin contact
- Tick, flea or deer fly bite
Diagnosis of Bacterial Infection (Tularemia) in Dogs
Symptoms related to tularemia will prompt your veterinarian to get a full history on the patient, taking particular note of what wildlife or other common infection vectors your dog may have been exposed to in the last few weeks. Typically, a general physical examination will be given and a complete blood count and chemistry profile will be completed. A preliminary diagnosis based on the physical exam and history may prompt treatment even before the final diagnosis is completed, and a bacterial culture test will also be ordered.
The symptoms of tularemia are similar to the symptoms of other bacterial diseases such as pseudotuberculosis and plague, so a definitive diagnosis requires the bacterium to be identified by either culture or by antibody testing. If left untreated, the diagnosis of tularemia is often discovered during necropsy. In some areas, diagnosis of tularemia may need to be reported to the local public health authorities.
Treatment of Bacterial Infection (Tularemia) in Dogs
The prognosis is good for animals that are treated with antibiotics to fight the infection early on in the disease. The longer symptomatic tularemia is left untreated the worse the prognosis becomes, and the more likely it becomes that the infection will lead to fatality.
Streptomycin is often used reliably in both animals and humans to combat tularemia infections, although other antibiotics such as gentamicin or tetracycline may be recommended depending on the circumstances. There is a risk of damage to the ears due to ototoxicity with the specific antibiotics required to fight Francisella tularensis, but it is slight. It is essential with this and other treatable bacterial infections to continue treatment for the full complement of the prescription, ten to fourteen days depending on the type of antibiotic used. This applies even if the symptoms have gone into remission as ending treatment before it is recommended can lead to a full relapse of the disease.
Depending on the symptoms present, treatment may also include IV fluids to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
Recovery of Bacterial Infection (Tularemia) in Dogs
Making sure that your pet completes the full measure of their antibiotic medication is the best thing you can do to protect their health with this disease. Keeping your dog in a secluded environment will help prevent the spread of the bacteria through the household and will allow you to better control that environment. Keeping the recovering patient in a calm and quiet environment will help speed the recovery, as will having food and water within reach of your pet. Prompt removal of feces should be observed, and gloves should be worn during this process. As this disease is communicable between species, it is essential to adhere to vigilant hygiene practices while attending to your pet, such as frequent and thorough hand washing. Pregnant women, the elderly and small children should exercise extreme caution when assisting with recovery as they may be at risk for infection themselves.
Bacterial Infection (Tularemia) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
What is wrong with my dog?
Started this when eating rabbit poop in backyard. Has had diarrhea for the past 3 days. Worried it could be tilaremia but I'm not sure, it's 4th of July weekend so the vet isn't open and we can't afford a 24 hour urgent care or hospital
Tularemia is usually presents with fever, enlarged lymph nodes, abdominal pain and jaundice (yellowing of the skin, white of eyes and mucous membranes); if you see any of these symptoms visit an emergency Veterinarian immediately regardless of cost. The majority of times, dogs which eat rabbit faeces are usually unaffected by it; parasites carried by rabbits normally do not affect dogs (except Encephalitozoon cuniculi). Most probably Snickers is just having some diarrhoea from eating the faeces due to other bacteria present; ensure that Snickers remains hydrated and try giving some plain canned pumpkin to try and firm up the stool. If the diarrhoea progresses (you see blood or is more frequent) or any new symptoms, visit an Emergency Veterinarian immediately. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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I bought a rabbit(not from a pet shop) 2/3 days ago and brought it home and my dogs played around with it,and days after this,my 7 month old Rottweiler ate but vomited it out and has refused to eat anything I give her.What could be the problem?And how and what should I treat her with?I am really worried
A Rottweiler should have no problems eating and passing a rabbit; however, from the symptoms you describe it seems that Gus may have an obstruction which can occur in these instances. A disease like Tularemia usually presents with fever, enlarged lymph nodes and can affect people too. Given the consumption of the rabbit, an obstruction is the most probable cause; Gus may pass the rabbit with difficulty or may require some mineral oil (4 teaspoons) to help lubricate the intestines. However, if in doubt, or Gus is showing signs of pain, fever, enlarged lymph nodes or any other symptom visit your Veterinarian immediately. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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Lylah has been chasing rabbits at our new home. A few weeks ago she started sneezing/was obviously congested along with frequent dry hacking. I attributed it to the weeds in the area - we all have allergies right now. For a few days at the onset of the congestion she was throwing up mucus, mildly lethargic, and warm to the touch but still eating/drinking/playing. The lethargy and upset tummy passed in 2 days, so I figured she'd just eaten something that disagreed with her. Somewhere around there she had a swollen/congested eye, but that passed at the same time as well. For the last 2 plus weeks she has been hyper and happy - eating/drinking /playing normally, not warm to the touch, not sleeping too often, and not grouchy at all. I noticed last night she has swollen lymph nodes (which explains her increased frequency of snoring) and her dry cough hasn't completely gone away. Does this sound like Rabbit Fever to you, or more like something else?
Swollen lymph nodes may be caused by a variety of different conditions including infections, allergies, lymphatic disorders among others; also salivary gland swelling may occur and can feel like lymph nodes when there is a slight swelling. Tularemia usually has more severe symptoms, but regardless it would be best to visit your Veterinarian to get her checked over and treated. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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