Fish and Game warns of annual Tularemia outbreak affecting pets

Published: May. 28, 2020 at 6:56 PM AKDT
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Nearly every year around Memorial Day, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks is notified of a hare infected with tularemia -- a bacteria spread by hare and vole ticks.

If an infected hare is killed or mouthed by a dog or cat, the disease can be transmitted to humans through saliva contact.

Tularemia is more common in Fairbanks than other parts of Alaska, and is treatable if owners react quickly.

"Usually it is a sudden onset of fever and lethargy and no appetite," Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Health Veterinarian Dr. Kimberlee Beckman said of the symptoms of tularemia. "Cats especially get a really high fever quickly, so it is very sudden. Almost always, there is the history of them having killed a hare or contacted a hare, and within a day or two of coming in contact with the hare, they'll become very sick."

The severity of the annual outbreak mirrors that of the current hare population. Dr. Beckman says this year's hare count is on the lower side.

"It is a very typical cycle, where the number of hares go up about every 10 years, they get really high and the predator numbers follow, like lynx," said Dr. Beckman. "The tularemia itself can affect populations. When there is a really high hare density, the disease itself is population regulating -- so it is not just the numbers of lynx taking the hares down, it is actually the tularemia affecting their population."

Dr. Beckman recommends keeping dogs on a leash and preventing cats from roaming free. If your pet does come in contact with a hare or come home with one, to use gloves and plastic bag to remove the hare and monitor their symptoms.

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