Tularemia - What is it
There has been some recent concern about Tularemia, a serious infection of wildlife that can affect people and pets. Tularemia is a bacterial infection most commonly found in rabbits. When the rabbit is hunted by an animals, and the blood is now ingested the infection spreads. It is also possible to inhale the organism from the carcass, drinking contaminated water (a carcass in the water) or biting insects that draw blood can be a source of spread. Tularemia has been reported in some cats in Champaign County and to date we have not seen it in Douglas County. It is likely in the wildlife so taking precautions is still smart.
Tularemia is a bacterial organism that causes an infection in the lungs, skin, eyes, and sinuses of animals. It is most commonly found in rabbits, mice, sheep, and people although cats and dogs can become infected also. The disease is treatable with antibiotic provided the infection is detected early. Dogs or cats who hunt rabbits can have the infection in their mouth or claws. If your dog or cat licks near your face, an open sore, or scratches you that is how you may become infected.
Common signs of the disease are fever, skin abscesses, nasal discharge, eye discharge, or pneumonia. It may take 1 to 10 days before symptoms develop. The disease is spread primarily through ticks, fleas and biting flies. Dogs and cats can also become infected by eating the raw flesh of the rabbits or infected animals. Ticks, fleas and biting flies can also spread the disease from one animal to another when they suck the blood and bite another animal. Humans become infected by skinning hunted animals or handling hit by car wildlife without wearing gloves. Cats rarely spread infection directly to humans. It is usually handling the dead wildlife that the cat has brought in that causes spread of the infection.
The disease may be difficult to diagnose at first because the symptoms are similar to other infections. Be sure to tell your veterinarian if your dog or cat is allowed to run off leash at all, even for short periods. Cats are very good hunters, and can kill mice and small rodents within a short time outside, even if they are not hungry. Blood tests and cultures can confirm the diagnosis but these tests may take up to weeks to get the results.
To protect your pets and yourself follow these guidelines:
- Keep a veterinary recommended flea and tick product on your dog or cat. Preventing those tick and flea bites is an easy way to protect your pets and yourself. Revolution is a good product to kill fleas, ticks, heartworm and other diseases in the dog and cat.
- Do not handle any dead wildlife without gloves on and wash your hands after handling. Use a shovel to clear any road kill.
- If you have hunted, wear gloves and a mask for skinning and processing.
- Do not let your pet eat dead or dying wildlife.
- Walk your dogs on leash and limit how much time your cat goes outside. Have your cat wear a breakaway collar with a bell to warn wildlife.
Take your pet to the vet as soon as they are not eating normally, acting quiet or having any eye or nasal discharge. Cats do not show the signs of disease as obviously as dogs do, so anything that has your cat "off" take them in or have the veterinarian come to your home.
Luckily I have not seen a case of Tularemia here in Tuscola. I hope I never do.
You can read more about Tularemia at our Pet Library.