The Symptoms of Rabbit Fever in Dogs

by Jane Meggitt
Rabbits are just one source of tularemia infection.

Rabbits are just one source of tularemia infection.

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Although rabbit fever can be passed from one species to another, including humans, your dog doesn't necessarily have to come in contact with a bunny to catch tularemia. This bacterial disease spreads to canines via tick, flea and mosquito bites, as well as by exposure to contaminated water. If your dog consumes an infected rabbit, rodent, bird or other carrier, tularemia could follow. Without prompt treatment, tularemia can prove fatal.

Francisella Tularensis

Francisella tularensis, the bacteria causing tularemia, can survive for long periods in wet environments. Although tularemia occurs nationwide, it's most prevalent in the Southern and Western parts of the United States during the spring and summer months. Symptoms appear in dogs appear within one day to two weeks after exposure. Most dogs become symptomatic between three and five days later. Because people can contract tularemia from animals, visit your doctor if your dog is diagnosed with the disease.

Sudden Onset

Rabbit fever strikes suddenly. Your dog might experience a high fever, though even without taking his temperature you know that something is wrong. He stops eating and drinking, appears stiff and weak, and his lymph nodes swell. If he caught the disease via a bug or tick bite, an abscess might form at the site. He might experience a discharge from his nose and eyes. Other symptoms include jaundice, or eye yellowing, tongue ulceration and abdominal tenderness because of liver or spleen enlargement.

Veterinary Emergency

If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, take him to the veterinarian immediately. Without treatment, death could be just hours away. Along with the clinical signs, blood work reveals whether your dog has an elevated white blood cell count, which can indicate the bacteria's presence. Your dog might have high bilirubin levels and low glucose and sodium levels. Urine tests might reveal blood and high levels of bilirubin. However, definite confirmation of tularemia usually requires specialized laboratory work. Your vet will administer antibiotics to your dog to treat the disease.

Tularemia Precautions

Because tularemia spreads among species, your vet might want to check other pets and livestock your dog might have exposed to the disease. While you can't prevent tularemia, your vet can recommend a monthly topical or oral flea-and-tick preventive that lessens your dog's risks of contracting the disease. Don't allow your dog to eat wild animal carcasses or drink or bathe in streams, ponds or lakes.

Photo Credits

  • Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images

About the Author

Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.