Cat Tests Positive in San Diego for Dangerous Tularemia, Also Called ‘Rabbit Fever”

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

A cat in San Marcos, California, has tested positive for

tularemia, also known as "rabbit fever.” This is a potentially dangerous bacterial disease which can be spread to humans by ticks, San Diego County officials reported in a media release on June 8, 2014.

County officials explain that outdoor cats can contract this dangerous disease by coming into direct contact with an infected wild animal. The San Marcos cat spent time outside and hunted rodents and rabbits, the Times of San Diego reports.

Officials of the San Diego County Vector Control Program said the cat was diagnosed after it became ill and was taken to a veterinarian, who contacted the County to conduct tests on it.

Since the diagnosis, County employees have monitored the area for ticks and sick or dead rabbits.


One year ago, on June 9, 2013, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Districts in Illinois announced that it had identified two additional cats that tested positive for tularemia in Champaign-Urbana.

Previously, five cats were diagnosed with tularemia at the University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine; one cat from Champaign and one from Urbana; and three cats from two households in Savoy.

The Public Health District explained that Tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis found in animals (especially rodents, rabbits and hares).


Cats may prey on rabbits and rodents and become infected or they may become infected through tick exposure.

Cats may develop a variety of symptoms including high fever, mouth ulcers, depression, enlarged lymph nodes and behavioral changes, including not eating.

Persons whose cats have contact with the outdoors should take their pet into the veterinarian if they develop these symptoms.


Tularemia can be successfully treated with antibiotics. The San Diego cat and people who came into contact with it are all being treated, according to 10News.

The most common way people become exposed to tularemia is through the bite of infected ticks, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, people can also become infected by touching infected animals, being bitten by them, or by drinking or inhaling contaminated water, dust or aerosols.

San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said tularemia cannot be transmitted from one person to another. She said that when people become infected, symptoms typically include fever, swollen lymph nodes, headache, possibly skin ulcers at the site of the insect bite, fatigue, body aches and nausea, according to the County media release.

In extreme cases, people can develop coughs, chest pain and have trouble breathing.


“Avoid hiking in grassy, brushy areas where you can come into contact with ticks,” county Department of Environmental Health Director Liz Pozzebon said. “Don’t touch wild animals, dead or alive. And call vector control if you come across dead rabbits or rodents that don’t look like they suffered some sort of injury.”

Actions people can take to protect their pets and themselves and their pets include:

Do not allow your cat to hunt outdoors.

Consult with your veterinarian to make sure your cat is protected from tick bites by the most appropriate monthly tick control.

Report any unexplained large die-offs of rodents or rabbits to your local animal control

Cook wild game meat thoroughly before eating and use gloves when handling the animal and preparing the meat for cooking

Take any pet with symptoms of tularemia to the veterinarian immediately.

Stay on designated pathways when hiking; choose wide trails and walk in the center 

Avoid grassy or brushy areas where ticks may be.

Wear light- colored, long-sleeved clothing; tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks when outdoors.

Frequently check clothing, body and companions for ticks

Do not handle wild rodents or other wild animals.

Do not touch sick or dead wild animals.

San Diego County also advises people who go hiking to leave pets at home or keep them on a leash.

For more information about Tularemia, visit the Vector Control Tularemia Web page.

Sources: 10 News, County News Center, Times of San Diego, C-UPHD