Over the last few Colorado springs and summers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has seen an increase in Tularemia, also known as “rabbit fever”. Tularemia is a bacterial infection (Francisella tularensis) which has the potential to infect dogs, cats and people.
There are two main sources of transmission, and both are associated with rabbits.
- Meat: If a dog, cat or person consumes infected meat from a rabbit.
- Ticks: A tick that has fed on an infected rabbit now carries the bacteria and can infect a dog, cat or person. The bacteria can persist for long periods in the environment (soil, water, animal carcasses).
Clinical signs to watch for include: fever, depression, anorexia (lack of appetite), lymph node enlargement, and ulcers or wounds in the mouth. These symptoms are common with other diseases, but a specific test to diagnose Tularemia is offered by the State Health Department and can be submitted through Longs Peak Animal Hospital, PC.
Antibiotics are the treatment of choice for Tularemia and can be started while waiting for test results. Depending on the severity of the infection, hospitalization may be necessary. We recommend flea and tick preventative (topical or oral) to limit exposure.
There were 46 cases of Tularemia reported in 2015 for Boulder, Larimer, and Weld counties. If you notice an unexplained die-off of a rabbit population near your home, please contact the County Health department. Keep in mind that it is best to avoid contact with all rabbits.
- Katie Becker, DVM