A pair of rabbits in a hutch outside

Tularemia is a serious bacterial disease most commonly found in rabbits – hence, the name, “Rabbit Fever”. Unfortunately, it can be transmitted to pets and humans through the bite of an infected tick or deerfly, or by touching/ handling an infected sick or dead animal.

Tularemia can also be contracted by inhaling airborne bacteria, eating an infected rabbit, drinking water or food contaminated by an infected animal, or contact with contaminated grass or soil.

What Causes Tularemia?

The bacterium causing Tularemia is Francisella tularensis, and is found worldwide in a variety of wild animals, birds and insects. The most common carriers, however, are rabbits and rodents.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of Tularemia infection are serious and vary depending on how the bacteria are introduced to the body.

  • If through the skin from a bite, symptoms include fever, a non-healing skin ulcer at the bite site, and swollen and painful lymph glands.
  • If through ingestion, symptoms include gastrointestinal illness with abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea, mouth sores, and sore throat.
  • If inhaled, symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, dry cough, weakness, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia.

How Is Tularemia Treated?

Once exposed to Tularemia, it can take anywhere from two days to two weeks for symptoms to develop. If diagnosed in its early stages, when symptoms first appear, Tularemia can be effectively treated with antibiotics. However, if treatment is delayed or not provided, its effects will usually be fatal.

Prevent Tularemia By Protecting Your Pet and Yourself

Rabbits and rodents live abundantly around us in our yards, parks, and open space areas. Consequently, it is wise to pay attention when coming across these animals anywhere in our environment. Following are several precautions for keeping everyone safe.

  • Never touch a dead rabbit or other dead wild animal you come across.
  • Avoid, and keep your pet away from, any rabbit or other wild animal that appears sick.
  • Never attempt to feed a rabbit or other wild animal.
  • Eliminate places on your property where rabbits or rodents could nest.
  • Avoid, and keep our pet away from, areas infested with rabbits or rodents.
  • Make sure your pet is protected with a flea and tick preventive, and check your pet for ticks when outdoors on extended walks and hikes.
  • Contact us immediately if your pet develops sudden or unexplained illness or symptoms.
  • If your pet is diagnosed with Tularemia, follow all treatment protocols as recommended by your veterinarian and take additional precautions to prevent transmission to yourself or other family members.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you or a family member develop unexplained illness/symptoms.
  • If you see a dead rabbit anywhere in the Denver-Metro area, report it to the Tri-County Health Department at 720-200-1477.

Final Thoughts 

Tularemia is called “rabbit fever’ for a reason – it’s carried most commonly by rabbits and will usually cause them to become very sick and die. Unfortunately, it can be transmitted to our pets and to us with the same terrible consequences, if not treated early. Understanding how this disease is transmitted and by taking precautions to prevent it, we can greatly minimize the risks of exposure to both our pets and to ourselves. 

If you have any questions about Tularemia, do not hesitate to call your team at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center.