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Tularemia in Dogs

Tularemia is caused by bacteria.

Tularemia is caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis. It's often called rabbit fever, and it affects rabbits and rodents. It's not a particularly common condition in dogs, but they can become infected if they eat a rabbit or rodent that has an active tularemia infection. Dogs can also acquire the bacteria if they drink contaminated water or are bitten by a tick, mosquito, or flea that has the bacteria inside it.

In rodents and rabbits, tularemia infects the liver, making abscesses there.

Signs of Tularemia in Dogs

Most of the time, tularemia is self-limiting in dogs, which means that it resolves on its own. Dogs may show some of the following signs:

  • Slight fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Redness in the whites of the eyes
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Draining abscesses in the skin

Diagnosis of Tularemia in Dogs

Because tularemia in dogs is a rare condition, and because the signs can be attributed to so many other diseases, diagnosis can be tricky. Blood work, cytology of lymph nodes and abscess drainage material, x-rays, and other tests can help rule out some conditions.

There are blood tests available at specialty labs that measure the number of antibodies to tularemia circulating in the blood. If those antibodies rise over the course of two to four weeks, the dog has tularemia.

Treatment of Tularemia in Dogs

Tularemia is treated with antibiotics. Severely ill dogs may need hospitalization and IV fluid therapy. Draining abscesses may require surgery to remove.

Tularemia Is Zoonotic

Humans can be infected with tularemia bacteria through drinking contaminated water, being bitten by an infected insect or tick, or through bites and scratches. When a dog has tularemia, he should be isolated in a veterinary clinic for care to minimize humans' exposure to the bacteria.

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