Tularemia and Rabbits

How is tularemia transmitted?
Tularemia can be transmitted from direct skin contact with infected mammals (most often rabbits), from inhaling the organism (most often from running over a dead infected rabbit with a lawnmower), and from the bites of an infected tick or deer fly.

How common is tularemia in people?
Tularemia is a very rare disease. In Illinois, only 1 to 10 cases are reported each year.

I have seen rabbits in my yard. What do I do?
There are many rabbits present in the state. Do not approach or try to pick up any live rabbits. Leave them be.

I have dead rabbit(s) in my yard. What do I do?
To remove the dead rabbit(s) from the yard, bring two plastic trash bags with you and wear gloves. Keep the rabbit away from your face. You can pick up the dead rabbit with your gloved hands or use a shovel and carefully, without swinging the body, put it in the plastic bag, then double bag it and throw it away in the trash. If you use a shovel you can then fill a five-gallon bucket with water, one cup of bleach per gallon of water and put the shovel into the water to sit for a half hour to disinfect it. Put the bucket with the shovel in a place where children and pets cannot access it.

Can I have the dead rabbit tested for tularemia?
Although rabbits can be tested for tularemia, testing is not necessary. Please follow instructions on how to dispose of a dead rabbit.

My dog or cat has a rabbit in its mouth or has eaten part of a rabbit. What do I do?
Put on gloves and bring two plastic trash bags. Avoid getting any fluids from the rabbit on your body or into your nose or mouth. Gently take the rabbit from the dog or cat and put it into a plastic bag, then double bag it and throw it in the trash. Dogs and cats can be infected with tularemia but it is rare. Watch your dog or cat for the next 3 weeks. If your pet with rabbit contact develops any of the signs/symptoms in the list below please bring your pet to the veterinarian and let them know the pet had contact with a rabbit and on what date that contact took place.

What are the signs and symptoms of tularemia in pets?

  • Listlessness
  • Not eating
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Skin abscesses
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever