Tularemia found in Fremont County pets

Oct 6, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

No human cases of the disease have been reported locally.

Tularemia has been a cause for concern in Wyoming this year, and two animal cases in Fremont County last month confirmed the disease has appeared locally. Officials say residents can take several precautions to protect themselves and their pets.

Tularemia, also called rabbit fever, is a dangerous disease caused by a bacterium. It is transmitted by biting insects, such as ticks and deer flies, by handling the carcasses of infected animals, such as rabbits, by infected water, by eating insufficiently cooked meat, or by inhaling bacteria on dust or animal material.

In August, the Wyoming Department of Health reported a Big Horn County man died of tularemia, and nine other people in the state have contracted the disease. No human cases have been reported in Fremont County, howerver.

Veterinarian Lisa Dawson, owner of Lander Valley Animal Hospital, treated both sick animals, a dog and a cat, in Fremont County. The cat was treated successfully, but the dog did not recover.

"This year there's just so many rabbits and mice that --it's kind of a big year for them --that that's probably why we're seeing more of the disease, and that's where animals are most likely to get it," Dawson said.

The cat lives in Lander and likely contracted the disease from mice or other animals it hunted, Dawson said. The dog lived on a rural property near Lander, and its owner did not know how it became infected.

Dawson thought insects might have transmitted the disease to the canine.

The veterinarian recommends using a tick-control product on pets to decrease the risk of tularemia. Pets that hunt are more likely to contract the disease, she said.

"Most cases in animals and people can be treated with antibiotics, and they will survive," Dawson said.

Pets that show signs of a high fever or poor appetite, especially after two or three days, might have tularemia, Dawson said. Another sign is a swollen neck caused by swollen lymph-node glands in the neck.

"The symptoms can be kind of vague. They can just look sick," Dawson said.

Pet owners should bring their animals to a veterinarian if they see those symptoms, she said.

The cat showed signs of tularemia, and Dawson confirmed it with a blood test. Antibiotics and intravenous therapy cured the animal, she said.

The dog's case was worse, and it came into the animal hospital with infected lymph nodes. The disease spread to its nervous system likely causing meningitis and affecting its ability to walk. Because of its symptoms and because the dog was not responding to treatment, Dawson said, they decided to euthanize it.

In addition to using tick-control products on pets, the WDH also recommends avoiding handling game animals appearing sick and wearing rubber gloves when dressing game. The department also recommends cooking meat thoroughly, washing hands after handling animals and contacting untreated water.