Tularemia in pets is a relatively unknown bacterial disease, but it has been around for hundreds of years. It is not fatal in pets unless the exposure has been quite severe, but there are several different ways that both dogs and cats can become infected, especially if you live in rural areas.
However, it is considered an extremely dangerous and virulent organism and has at different periods of history been so severe in killed pets almost like the plaque. It is also known as Rabbit Fever. It was named after a county in California where the last serious outbreak occurred.
Tularemia in pets is found in every state in the United States except Hawaii, and in most all parts of the world. It is extremely difficult to properly diagnosis simply because it resembles several other bacterial diseases.
What is Tularemia?
Tularemia is a bacterial disease that is primarily spread by ticks in the form of a gram negative bacterium. A gram negative bacterium simply means that the bacterium is pathogenic and capable of causing disease in the host organism. Cats are very susceptible to this disease, but dogs seem to be almost immune to it.
This disease is also very dangerous to humans, and like cats it can be spread through several different routes; although it can not be spread from your cat to you. There are two different strains of these bacteria, Type A and Type B, with Type B being much more dangerous to your pet. The type A form, however, is a lot more dangerous to people.
The Type B form has a more complex life cycle that the A form. This disease is primarily spread by four different ticks and the ticks become infected by feeding on either infected animals or birds, and can transmit these bacteria to any other animal.
It is considered a more complex life cycle as ticks can carry the infection for up to two years. Fleas also present a threat to your pets as they can carry the disease as well.
How it is spread:
Although the primary mode of spreading Tularemia to your pets will be by ticks or fleas, it can also be spread by several different methods. Dogs and Cats can become infected by eating an infected rabbit or rodent or by sniffing or licking mucous membranes that have infected blood or fluids from either the animal or the actual tick or flea.
If the outbreak is severe enough, your pet could catch the disease simply by inhaling the dust from the contaminated soil. It can also be spread by contaminated water, although that is not very common. People can become infected by handling infected animals, especially rabbits, or by eating rabbit meat that that was not cooked properly, as well as being bitten by a tick or an arthropod.
The incubation period for this disease is generally 3 to 5 days in your pet but in some cases it can take as long as two to three weeks for the first symptoms to appear.
Since dogs seem to be almost immune, the only symptoms a dog may experience will be a slight fever and a temporary loss of appetite until their immune system fights off the infection. However, with cats it is much different as they can develop absences where they were bitten by the tick or flea, and will almost always run a very high fever that can present several problems if it runs too long.
Cats are also subject to this infection attacking their lymph nodes, and after being infected for a week to ten days they will start to have nasal discharges as well as a rash, usually around the eyes. However, if it is severe, your cat may develop chills and muscle pains and develop internal abscesses that could affect both their spleen and liver.
Kittens and puppies run a very high risk of severe infections as their immune systems have not fully developed and this infection could become deadly to them. The times of the year your pets will be greater at risk for this infection will be the summer months when ticks and fleas flourish, as well as early winter when rabbits are being hunted.
However, if the bacterium has severely infected the soil, both dogs and cats are subject to an air born form from the dust that could cause pneumonia like illness.
Treatment and Prevention:
It is extremely important that this disease is properly diagnosed and treated. If treated quickly it can be stopped. However, if left untreated it can and has been fatal to pets, especially cats. Your veterinarian will run a blood test to test your pet's antibodies that are trying to fight off this infection.
As the infection progresses, the antibody count will raise helping to identify it. Treatment will almost always be with an antibiotic, although there is not one yet exclusively for pets with this disease. They will have to be given either tetracycline, streptomycin, or a new drug called enrofloxacin that are used for people.
The best modes of protection for your pets will be in building their immune system with supplements and than protecting them with both tick and flea guards. However, if your pet still gets bitten by a tick, there is a very definitive way you should remove the tick.
The tick must be removed as quickly as you discover it, but you should never attempt to burn a tick out or cover it with Vaseline or nail polish. Those methods can cause much more harm to your pet and are misconceptions. You should always remove the tick with fine point tweezers. Place the tweezers as close to your pets skin as you can and pull it straight out.
Do not twist or turn the tweezers as this can cause the tick to break off and remain in your pet. If you do not have tweezers, use a piece of cloth and pull it out with your fingers. Once out, place it in a jar of rubbing alcohol and date it. This will help your veterinarian a great deal in the proper treatment for your pet.