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Q: Given that dogs have been known to find baby rabbits out in the yard and pick them up with their mouths, how vulnerable are they to tularemia?

A: Dogs aren't nearly as likely to get the potentially fatal disease as cats are, but it is possible.

Tularemia, also called rabbit fever, is spread to both animals and people through the bites of infected ticks and deer flies, direct skin contact with infected animals and breathing in the bacteria that causes the disease.

Cats are more likely to be out hunting out of the sight of their owners and coming into contact with sickly or dead wild animals, while dogs are more likely to pull baby rabbits out of healthy nests, according to DR. SARAH REICH, a veterinarian with the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic.

That's not to say a dog couldn't become infected the same ways people and other animals do, she said. Dogs are curious, and may well check out a dead rabbit in the yard. Both cats and dogs can also become infected if they eat infected animal carcasses.

That's why veterinarians advise keeping cats indoors and dogs on a leash so their trips outside can be supervised when tularemia is circulating, Reich said. For dogs that are let out in the yard unsupervised, she advises taking a look around to make sure there aren't any dead animals out there for them to find.

In the animal kingdom, tularemia is most often associated with rabbits, hares, rodents and cats, but several other animals can become infected, with sheep being the most susceptible, Reich said.

Tularemia seasons are spring and summer, when insects that bite infected animals and spread the disease are most active. So that's the time when pet owners need to be most on the alert, she said.

Tularemia symptoms in both animals and people tend to resemble those of flu-like illness plus swollen lymph nodes. In both pets and people, immediate medical attention is required.

The UI Wildlife Medical Clinic has gotten several calls about tularemia risk since it surfaced in Champaign-Urbana recently, Reich said.

Callers are being advised to contact the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District if they find any dead rabbits in their yards, she said.