Tularemia is a disease of animals and humans (and also it's zoonotic - so it may go back and forth between animals and people). Its caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Rabbits, hares, and also rodents are especially susceptible and often die in large numbers during outbreaks. In fact, tularemia is sometimes referred to as rabbit fever.
What motivated me to write this, in part, was a note with this link from Dr. Sheldon Rubin in Chicago, IL. that there's currently a tularemia outbreak in cats in central Illinois.
Tularemia is a zoonotic bacterial disease that is occasionally seen in dogs, cats and people. It is associated with multiple animal species, and can be acquired from through contact with infected animals, most commonly with rabbits and also rodents. How often do dogs or cats sniff around dead animals, or even potentially be the cause of death, perhaps in an animal too sick to make a clean get-a-way. The disease may also be transmitted through by drinking contaminated water, or through contact with infected soil, where the organism can remain in an infectious state for up to several months.
Infection is often caused by ticks, (especially the American dog tick, but other tick species also) mites, fleas or even mosquito bites -- all of which can carry and transmit the bacteria. The bacterium may also infect a dog through its skin, or by entering its airways, eyes or gastrointestinal system.
Tularemia is found throughout much of the world, including continental Europe, Japan and China, and in the Soviet Union. In the United States, it is most common in Arkansas and Missouri, though it can be found in most parts of the U.S. It also tends to have higher seasonal incidence, with May through August being a time of increased risk. An increase is also seen during the winter rabbit hunting season.
Dr. Loyd Lillywhite offers this explanation:
While Dr. Lillywhile does a good job, Tularmia is pretty complex. In short, keep cats indoors (to limit exposure), and dogs should have tick protection. Due to a potentially fatal tick disease in cats called cytauxzoonosis (as well as tularemia), cats who do go outside should be also be protected against ticks in many parts of the country. While I understand the allure of allowing dogs off-leash, it's safer (for various reasons) to keep them on a leash.
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