Tularemia is a bacterial disease that is caused by Francisella tularensis. Even though rare, canines may contract the disease during any phase of their life. It also is referred to as “rabbit fever” because it typically is discovered in animals like rodents and rabbits. In some instances, dog tularemia left untreated may become deadly; therefore, it is vital that you recognize Tularemia as soon as its symptoms arise. Here is a guide to the tularemia symptoms and its diagnosis, causes, treatment, and prevention.
What is Tularemia?
This disease may affect a number of animal species—which includes dogs and humans—and is acquired via touching infected animals. Bacteria create tumor-like abscesses and masses inside the host’s liver.
Dogs and additional domestic animals usually are considered to be accidental hosts, and most dogs seem to be resistant to tularemia altogether. As a matter of fact, this disease is seen more often in cats, as compared with dogs. Generally, young animals usually are more vulnerable to contracting tularemia over senior dogs. But any canine who has been exposed to domestic animals and infected wildlife is at risk of contracting this disease.
Tularemia is discovered throughout most of the world, which includes continental Europe, the United States, China, and Japan. In the United States, Tularemia is found in all states except Hawaii, yet is more common in the states of California, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Tularemia incidents usually are greater around the country in the summertime, as deer flies and ticks are more populous, and within the winter, in rabbit hunting season.
Tularemia is a zoonotic disease, meaning it may be passed from an insect or animal to a human being, or from one animal species to another. Zoonotic diseases can’t be transferred from one person to another; however, you potentially can contract the disease from your pet. Tularemia in dog symptoms may take up to ten days to present themselves, and bacteria may stay alive for months or weeks without a host. It is vital that if you reside in tularemia-prone regions or areas, that you take all of the necessary precautions in order to mitigate the contraction risks and keep you and your pup as healthy as possible.
Kinds of Tularemia
There are two kinds of tularemia bacteria discovered in the United States.
Francisella tularensis biovar tularensis, Type A, is the most severe of the two and requires immediate medical attention; this kind is typically discovered in North America.
Francisella tularensis biovar palearctica, Type B, is a milder disease version, and typically is related to water contamination, arthropods (flies, fleas, or ticks), and aquatic mammals.
Causes of Tularemia in Dogs
The disease is contracted by exposure to contaminated soil, water, or animals. Dogs may catch the disease by drinking contaminated water or via contact with soil that’s the home to infected organisms, which may linger as an infection for months.
Dogs also can be exposed to the disease by eating and/or killing an infected animal, oftentimes a rodent or rabbit. As a dog eats the animal’s body fluids and tissue, the bacteria collects in his neck, head, and gastrointestinal system, and from that point, systemic infection happens.
The most typical way canines contract the disease is through a bite with an infected mosquito, flea, mite, or tick; the most typical carriers are the Rocky Mountain wood tick, the Lone Star tick, and the American dog tick.
In addition, the tularemia bacteria may infect a dog by getting inside his eyes, airways, or gastrointestinal system, or via skin contact. The bacteria create a blister inside the skin 3 -5 days after contact. As the blister starts to ulcerate, 2 - 4 days later, the bacteria may enter the lymph system, and spread to the remainder of the body, which includes the bone marrow, spleen, liver, and lungs.
Aerosolized bacteria inhalation also can cause lung disease.
Tularemia Dog Symptoms
A dog that has Type B tularemia, the infection’s mild form, typically won’t present any symptoms. If they do, the dog may suffer a lack of appetite (but more on that later), dog lethargy, or low-grade fever for a short time.
Indications of the disease may include swollen glands and lymph nodes, tick infestation, sudden high fever, poor appetite, and lethargy.
Other indications might involve:
- Ulcers or white patches on the tongue
- Throat infection
- Skin ulcers
- Reduced mobility
- Increased panting or respiratory rate
- High heart rate
- Frequent urination
- Enlargement of spleen or liver
- Abdominal pain
In more extreme instances, canines may suffer jaundice or organ system failure, which is the yellowing of the mucous membranes, eyes, and skin. If you notice any of the tularemia symptoms in dogs in your pet, immediately go to an emergency vet clinic.
It may take one to ten days from the first tularemia bacteria exposure for symptoms to begin to appear in your canine. Human symptoms follow a likewise presentation and timeline; therefore, if you think that you’ve contracted tularemia, you ought to see your physician for treatment, too.
If you notice any of those symptoms of tularemia in canines, book an appointment with the vet as soon as you can. Early tularemia in dog treatment is critical for positive results.
Before we get into how to prevent tularemia, let’s dive a little deeper into reasons for loss of appetite in your dog.
Dogs occasionally will forego food because of a variety of factors. Short-term, limited fasting is a tool utilized by all animals for different reasons. A bad meal, anxiety, or minor illness are some situations which may cause your pup to skip one or two meals. Short spans of fasting in canines are an evolutionary behavior that is handed down from their direct ancestors, wolves. Wolves and additional wild animals, if they aren’t feeling well, will fast without even thinking about it. Short-range fasting has advantageous cleansing processes, which may rid the body of unwanted virus, disease, and other dangerous substances.
However, extended dog appetite loss is more troubling. If your dog has not eaten food for over two days, you ought to immediately take it to the vet.
Main Causes of Dog Loss of Appetite
The real cause of your pet’s appetite loss may be determined by the vet. Before finding a dog appetite stimulant, it’ll help to pinpoint the precise cause. Depending upon your pet, there may be less severe conditions which might cause your pet to lose his appetite, yet there also are a number of reasons that might be more severe.
Any of those conditions may cause canines to stop consuming food for extended time periods:
- Upset stomach
- Eating something he shouldn’t
- Picky eater
More Severe Reasons
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Digestive issues or IBD
- Excessive stress
- Bacterial infections
- Viral infections
- Serious illness – cancer, diabetes, intestinal worms, renal failure
- Favoring human food
When to See your Vet
A dog’s loss of appetite may be a sign of a serious underlying issue. However, before you overreact, you have to get a strong estimate of your dog’s daily food consumption. If it seems as if your pet is not eating enough, do not panic. Many dogs regularly take in anywhere from 60 percent to 90 percent of the suggested caloric guidelines. And keep in mind, your pup might’ve just skipped one or two meals – according to the strict definition, that does not qualify as appetite loss.
Therefore, before you figure out a loss of appetite cure in your pup, you have to confirm that your pup is in fact, suffering disinterested or lethargic eating habits. Several wasted visits to the vet could have been avoided by just establishing a strong baseline of dog eating habits. A number of vet trips have ended with the knowledge that a dog has been consuming enough food all along!
If your pup is beginning to experience diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, or behavioral changes, it is time that you see your vet. Depending upon how serious the circumstances are, the vet might run blood work, take a stool sample, or perform do an ultrasound to check what could be causing the weight loss and loss of appetite.
Now back to the topic at hand: Tularemia prevention.
How to Prevent Tularemia
Preventing Tularemia in dogs (and you) pretty much boils down to tick control. Be certain that you regularly check him for ticks, and use flea and tick preventative, particularly in the summer or after hunting session (if it applies).
When outside in areas in which rodents or rabbits are prevalent, keep your pet on a leash to keep him far away from dead animals. In addition, utilize an insect repellent on you and your pet while outdoors in situations in which you are more likely to encounter ticks or ticks. Consult the vet if you aren’t certain which option to use.
Because infected animals may carry the disease even while dead, completely avoid handling them all. If a dead animal has to be moved, avoid any direct contact with its carcass. Put gloves on, long pants, long sleeve shirt, as well as closed-toe shoes. Utilize a shovel to move the animal, put it inside a plastic bag then dispose of it inside an outside trash receptacle. Then immediately wash your hands after.
If you happen to hunt wild game such as rodents and rabbits, handle the carcasses and skin carefully. At all times, wear gloves. If the animal is infected, tularemia may live inside its frozen meat for more than three years; therefore, make certain that you thoroughly cook it to destroy all remaining bacteria before eating.
Diagnosing Tularemia in Dogs
For the veterinary professional to make the most accurate diagnosis, you’ll have to provide them a full history of your dog’s recent activities and health. If he has been boarded, interacted with additional animals, on an outing, or traveled to regions in which insects are populous, it is vital that the vet knows. If the vet suspects tularemia, they might specifically inquire about the wildlife or typical infection carriers your pup might’ve been exposed to in the past couple of weeks.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any single, simplistic test for tularemia. As you take the dog to the vet clinic, he or she should do a full physical examination. A preliminary diagnosis based upon your pet’s physical examination, recent activities, and medical history might prompt treatment even before a final diagnosis is done. Even though lab work and bacterial culture test still also will be ordered.
Within some instances, the tularemia in dog diagnosis isn’t so obvious and samples must have specialized lab services to confirm the disease’s presence. It’ll include laboratory work like a CBC (complete blood count), blood chemical profile, urinalysis, electrolyte panel, and blood chemistry panel.
If tularemia is found, your pet’s test results will uncover an elevated white blood cell count, low blood sodium, low blood sugar, as well as thrombocytopenia (low platelet levels). There also may be blood in your furry friend’s urine.
If blood tests reveal hyperbilirubinemia (elevated bilirubin levels, this may be a sign of liver damage. If that’s the case, your pup likely will be exhibiting jaundice symptoms. Liver damage also can cause disorientation, canine seizures, head pressing, depression, blindness, and/or personality/behavioral changes.
To definitively diagnose tularemia, your veterinarian first must rule out any additional diseases that also can cause abrupt onset fever, lethargy in dogs, and enlarged canine lymph nodes.
If neglected, the tularemia diagnosis often is only discovered upon an autopsy. Within some regions, a tularemia diagnosis must be reported to the public health authorities.
Even with early treatment and diagnosis, the death rate among dogs that have tularemia is high. But the disease has a better prognosis if antibiotics are administered early. As a matter of fact, the key to a successful treatment involves early intervention. Canines which recover nearly always develop a long-lasting immunity (even though you still should take preventative precautions, to be safe.)
Vets treat tularemia cases using antibiotic medicine. Treatment might involve an aggressive routine which includes hospitalization with supportive care. It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s aftercare and prescription instructions; carefully follow the dosage and continually administer the medication to your dog until the vet says otherwise. That applies even if symptoms have disappeared or it seems he’s in remission. Ending medication or treatment too early may lead to a relapse of tularemia.
Before beginning with any antibiotics, consult the vet about possible side effects. Most antibiotics may cause reactions like vomiting, canine nausea, drowsiness, loss of appetite, and ataxia, a degenerative disease of a dog’s nervous system. One other side effect of some tularemia dog drugs is ototoxicity, or chemical-associated damage to the inner ear; it usually is mild; however, can lead to permanent or temporary canine loss of balance and/or hearing loss.
Depending upon the symptoms your pup is presenting with, his treatment might include an intravenous fluid therapy to remedy or prevent any electrolyte imbalance and dehydration.
Overall, tularemia treatment generally lasts 10 to 21 days; however, you still should implement general safety steps until the risk completely passes.
Once the disease has been diagnosed, the vet also may address the other disease symptoms, such as pain, or the ones related to ulcers, canine skin allergies or irritation, dehydration, and liver damage.
While on treatment and medication, keep the dog secluded and away from other family members or pets. It’ll prevent the bacteria from spreading all throughout your house. It’s essential to take precautions as you take care of your pet, use gloves and use best hygiene practices, such as frequent handwashing, in order to prevent contracting tularemia yourself.
The contagious tularemia period may be long-lived. Bacterial organisms survive in moist, cool environments (like soil) for months or weeks. Some tularemia strains may be killed by high heat or disinfectants. If you think that a tularemia-infected region is close to your house or somewhere you frequent, call a disinfection service to clear the region or avoid it altogether.
In addition, it’ll afford you the opportunity to be able to control the dog’s recovery environment. Keeping the dog in a calm, quiet environment drastically can speed his recovery. As dehydration is a tularemia symptom in dogs, be certain that he has enough water within his reach.
Consider providing him nutritional supplements or easily digestible, highly-nutritious food. As your pet’s body recovers from tularemia, he’ll require increased quantities of protein, calories, vitamins C and A, and occasionally the mineral zinc. He might not have an appetite as he recovers; therefore, offering him nutrient-rich food sources will make sure that he is receiving all the minerals and vitamins needed, even if he is consuming a smaller portion than usual.
Instant treatment and diagnosis are crucial. There are many at-risk activities (like hunting rabbits) which may make your furry companion more vulnerable to contracting the disease. Keeping tabs on your pup’s activities, particularly if you reside in a state or area in which tularemia is common, is critical. Arrange routine appointments with the vet and regularly check your pet for mites, ticks, and fleas.
Please do not ask for emergency or specific medical questions about your pets in the comments. Innovet Pet Products is unable to provide you with specific medical advice or counseling. A detailed physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinarian are required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet requires emergency attention or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic health conditions, please contact or visit your local/preferred veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.
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Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM was raised in north Louisiana. She graduated from LA Tech in 2011 with a degree in animal science. She then moved to Grenada West Indies for veterinary school. She completed her clinical year at Louisiana State University and graduated in 2015 from St. George’s University. Since veterinary school she has been working at a small animal and exotic veterinary clinic in east Texas, where she has experience treating all species that walk in the hospital. In her free time, she likes to travel with her husband Greg, bake yummy desserts and spend time with her 4-legged fur kids, a dog Ruby, a cat Oliver James “OJ”, a rabbit BamBam and a tortoise MonkeyMan.
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