Memorial Day weekend means ADF&G will be getting the first reports of the summer of sick or dead hares and shortly thereafter veterinarians in the Fairbanks area will be diagnosing cats and dogs with tularemia.
Here are some key facts you should know to prevent your pets, your children, or yourself from becoming seriously ill with this treatable but potentially life threatening bacterial infection:
1. Most sick or dead hares found this time of year are infected with the bacteria that causes tularemia. If your dog or cat plays with, picks up or kills the hare, the pet can become sick and they can then potentially transmit tularemia back to you via their saliva or the hares fluids/tissues if you get these fluids into a cut, scratch or bite on your hands.
2. Do not touch the hare with your bare hands, use gloves or a plastic bag to remove it from the pets mouth.
3. If the hare is freshly dead, double bag it in plastic, keep it out of the sun and bring it to the ADF&G office in Fairbanks within 1 day. If it is not fresh (it doesn't have fresh blood on it or it was laying there yesterday, has maggots or stinks) or you can't bring it in to ADF&G for examination promptly, then you should dispose of it, double bagged in the trash or buried where your pets can't reach it or dig it up. If you dispose of it, please call ADF&G at 459-7206 to report the date and location. It is through public reports that we track the location and severity of outbreaks.
4. If your pet becomes lethargic, sick, running a fever, see a veterinarian ASAP to get treatment with the appropriate antibiotics.
5. If you or any family members develop a rash, enlarged lymph nodes, fever, flu-like symptoms, see a physician immediately for diagnosis and treatment. At least two people in Fairbanks last summer got tularemia via a hare in their dogs mouth or the dogs saliva.
6. This disease is bacterial and easily treated with antibiotics if caught early. Untreated, it can be fatal to you or your pet.
7. If you see a sick hare that is still alive, keep children and pets away.
8. The species of ticks that spread tularemia between hares rarely attach to people or pets but if you do find a tick on yourself or your pet, wear gloves to remove it by grasping it and pulling with slow, firm tension, and it will release in a few seconds. Ticks are actually common in Alaska on rodents and hares, we just don't have the common dog or deer ticks so many people don't realize we have ticks.
9. The best way to prevent getting tularemia is to keep cats indoors and dogs on a leash or confined so they can't get access to hares.
Here's a link to the ADF&G website with some photos and information:
Kimberlee Beckmen, M.S., D.V.M, Ph.D.
Alaska Department of Fish & Game
Division of Wildlife Conservation
1300 College Road
Fairbanks AK 99701