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Tularemia in Cats

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Tularemia is an uncommon illness caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis. The bacteria is transmitted by ticks and most often affects rabbits and cats but can also affect dogs and humans. Despite being most often transmitted by ticks, cats also seem to be susceptible when infected rabbits or rodents are ingested. Cats have also been implicated in transmitting the illness to people. Despite occurring throughout the United States, most cases are diagnosed in the Midwestern United States, particularly Oklahoma.

After being bitten by an infected tick, the bacteria begin to multiply and cause illness. Lymph nodes enlarge and abscesses form in the liver and spleen. Generally, death occurs rapidly due to severe bacterial infection.

What to Watch For

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Jaundice

    Diagnosis

    Diagnosing tularemia can be difficult and is often only diagnosed on necropsy. If tularemia is suspected, bacterial cultures of any infected material can indicate Francisella tularensis. Blood tests may reveal antibody titers to the bacteria but this test is not typically run and must be specifically requested by the veterinarian.

    Treatment

    Since most cases of tularemia are diagnosed after the pet has expired, effectiveness of treatment is not fully known. Streptomycin and gentamicin are antibiotics typically used to treat humans and may be effective in diagnosed animals. Other antibiotics such as tetracycline and chloramphenicol can also be used.

    Home Care and Prevention

    There is no home care for tularemia. Diagnosed pets require veterinary care. The risk of exposure and infection of tularemia can be reduced by avoiding ticks and not allowing your pets to hunt and eat rabbits. Due to the potential contagious nature of the disease from cats to humans, any diagnosed animal should be handled very carefully.

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