Tularemia in Dogs

Tularemia is a zoonotic bacterial disease that affects different mammals, including humans. Tularemia can be contracted by your dog because of exposure to wildlife, other domestic animals that have been infected, and contaminated water or soil. The bacterial organisms can stay in an infectious state for a number of months. Tularemia is also known as rabbit fever due to the mode of transmission. 

The infection is usually caused by ingesting an infected animal’s tissue; for instance, when your dog hunts a smaller animal or bird, through a mosquito, tick, mite or flea bite, as all of these may be carrying this bacteria. Tularemia may enter your dog through the skin or through the airways and eyes. There is a higher risk of Tularemia during summer when there is a larger population of ticks and deer flies. Tularemia can be found in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, and the United States. 

One of the more common ways of transmission of Francisella tularensis bacteria is through ticks. 

Symptoms of Tularemia in Dogs

The symptoms may not arise immediately after infection. In fact, it can take up to ten days for the symptoms to appear. It is essential to know that humans can also be infected through their pets. The symptoms in human beings are similar to those of their pets. 

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Diarrhoea
  • Jaundice
  • Urinating frequently
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Enlarged spleen or liver
  • Ulcers or white patches on the tongue
  • Lethargy
  • Skin ulcers
  • Stiffness in the joints
  • Reduction of mobility
  • Swollen glands
  • Tick infestation
  • Throat infection
  • Vomiting

Types of Tularemia in Dogs

Type A – Francisella Tularensis biovar tularensis is a serious condition and will need immediate intervention to treat. It is an intracellular bacterium and lives within the host cells parasitically. It starts by infecting macrophages in white blood cells, which causes a lack of response from the immune system. This bacteria has the ability to spread to other organs and organ systems in the body.

Type B – Francisella Tularensis biovar palearctica is a milder type of infection that is caused mainly by contaminated water and is common among aquatic animals.

Causes of Tularemia in Dogs

Tularemia is a zoonotic bacterial infection, also called rabbit fever. It has been found that rabbits and squirrels are the most common propagators of Tularemia. This infection can be transferred to different species, particularly mammals. The causes include

  • Bacterial Francisella infection
  • Contact with other infected animals/ species
  • Contaminated water
  • Contaminated soil
  • Contact with infected skin
  • Bites from ticks, fleas, or deer fly
  • Inhalation of aerosolized bacteria

Diagnosis of Tularemia in Dogs

Taking your dog to the Vet as soon as you see a change in the physical condition of your dog or any changes in behaviour is critical. You will need to take your dog to the Vet with the medical history and any recent incidents that may have exposed your dog to wildlife or other infected species, contaminated soil or water, going back a few weeks. The Vet will start with a physical exam and order a variety of tests to check for Tularemia. A complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry profile will be ordered. Urinalysis and electrolyte panel testing will be included. The Vet may start on the treatment even before the final diagnosis, based on the symptoms. A Bacterial culture test will be taken to rule out pseudotuberculosis and plague as the symptoms are similar. 

If your dog tests positive for Tularemia, the results of CBC may reveal an increase in white blood cells. The tests may show a lower level of platelets which help in blood clotting.

The diagnosis of Tularemia in Dogs may require labs that specialize in bacterial infections. PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) test may help in identifying Tularemia. The lab should be notified that Tularemia is suspected so that they may use BCYE (Buffered charcoal and yeast extract) to determine Francisella Tularensis.

Treatment of Tularemia in Dogs

If the treatment begins at the onset of Tularemia, the prognosis is usually favourable. The treatment will start with antibiotics to curb and fight the bacterial infection. If the symptoms have been ignored for long, and the treatment is delayed, naturally, the prognosis becomes progressively worse, even leading to fatality.

Your dog’s Vet will prescribe specific antibiotics such as Streptomycin or Tetracycline. The Vet will also advise you of the risk of ear damage because of the ototoxicity in a few of the antibiotics that are necessary to fight Tularemia. It is essential that the medication is taken for the entire course of treatment which could be between ten days and fourteen days without a break. Even if the symptoms disappear in the middle, you need to ensure that the full course of antibiotics is completed. IV fluids may be required to avoid electrolyte imbalance and dehydration.

Recovery from Tularemia in Dogs

  • Make sure that your dog has completed the course of prescribed antibiotics, as that is a good start to full recovery from Tularemia. 
  • Access to clean and uncontaminated water is a must.
  • Observe prompt removal of faeces, wearing gloves
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently as Tularemia is communicable between species
  • Ensure that small children, the elders of the family, and pregnant women remain protected during the recovery process as there is a risk of infection.
  • Wear masks and prevent inhalation of Tularemia
  • Avoid exposing any part of damaged skin while handling your dog as the bacteria can penetrate your skin
  • Keep the pet in a secluded, hygienic, and comfortable environment during this time. You must also make sure that this environment will be safe enough so as to not spread the bacteria around your home. 


The information contained in VOSD Vet Advice™ is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical action which is provided by your vet. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. For any emergency situation related to a dog’s health, please visit the nearest veterinary clinic.

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