K9 Corner

By HELEN PALMER

In reading the May issue of “Pepper ‘N Salt Newsletter”, published by the Standard Schnauzer Club of America, Inc., I came across an article on tularemia by W. Jean Dodds, DVM, Hemopet/Nutriscan of Garden Grove, California.  Fortunately Kentucky is not one of the states with recently reported cases of tularemia, but all states except Hawaii have had cases in the past.

According to Dodds, the tularemia bacteria can survive for long periods in moist environments such as water, soil, hay, straw, leaf litter, feces and decaying carcasses. It takes a minimal number of organisms to cause the disease which can come from bites from flies, ticks, fleas and mosquitoes, but also from breathing the organisms while handling carcasses.

 Dodds says that there are many mammals, birds, reptiles and fish that have been affected by the disease even though it is a seldom reported disease. This may be due to the fact that symptoms caused by the tularemia organism mimics a number of other ailments, including flu in humans.

In spite of its low number of reported cases, this bacterium is “one of the top five ‘bioweapons’ and human contraction must be reported to the public health authorities.” 

 There are three subspecies of this organism: Francisella tularensis tularensis (Type A) and Francisella tularensis holarctica (Type B) are the most clinically significant. “A separate species, Francisella novicida (Type C) can also induce tularemia. “Type A is found in North America and is considered the most virulent of the three and has the highest mortality rate.” (Probably why it classified as a “bioweapon.”) 

Type A is spread mainly by rabbits and three varieties of ticks: the wood tick, the lone star tick, the American dog tick and the deer fly.  The symptoms will vary depending on the point of infection and if it is caught early, according to Dodds. The glandular infection usually exhibits swollen lymph glands, fever, headache and lethargy- mimicking flu in humans. Dodds notes that some misdiagnoses are inadvertently treated correctly for tularemia.

This bacterium can enter through the eye causing symptoms similar to pink eye. Eating or drinking contaminated food or water can cause symptoms of a regular cold: sore throat swollen glands or possibly intestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea. If the organism enters the body through the lungs, the symptoms include cough, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.  

Another point of entry can be through a break in the skin which is why gloves are recommended if you need to touch or move a rabbit carcass. The most fatal form of this disease causes an enlarged spleen and liver.

Dodds recommends that if you see a dead rabbit or squirrel, you and your dog should avoid it. She also advises to avoid rabbit droppings and leash your dog if he seems excited about the feces.  Spray your yard for fleas and ticks following the label directions carefully and bring your own dog’s food and water bowl and clean water from home if you go out for a hike or a walk.