The Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks is warning pet owners to be alert for sick or dead snowshoe hares in the area, which may have succumbed to tularemia.

Dogs and cats are vulnerable to tularemia, which is a caused by the spread of a bacteria via hare and vole ticks. Later stages of the disease can make hares slow and easily caught by pets. Tularemia can be transmitted to pets that mouth or catch sick hares. 

"Tularemia outbreaks in hares are reported every May and June in the Fairbanks North Star Borough," said Kimberlee Beckmen, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game veterinarian, in a news release. 

People can become infected by handling hares or coming into contact with an infected pet's saliva, even before the pet exhibits signs of illness. The most common symptoms in people and pets are lethargy with high fever and swollen lymph nodes. Although tularemia can be fatal if untreated, it is easily cured if diagnosed quickly and the correct antibiotics are prescribed.

"Tularemia in humans is rare and can be avoided by taking safety precautions," Beckmen stated. "Do not allow your pets to roam free or have access to hares."

Tularemia is caused by the Francisella tularensis bacteria. It is most often seen in Interior Alaska between Memorial Day and Labor Day when hare and vole ticks are most active. While the ticks prefer rodents, they occasionally will bite dogs, cats or people. In addition, two species of dog ticks have become established around urban areas and can spread the bacteria, according to Fish and Game.

Those animals that do go outdoors can be treated to kill ticks to stop disease transmission. If a dog or cat comes into contact with a dead hare, wear gloves or use a plastic bag to take the animal away. Wash hands and any scratches, bites or wounds thoroughly with soap and water, and seek medical attention, especially if fever, redness, swelling or flu-like symptoms appear. 

For more information:

• Email the Wildlife Health Surveillance program at dfg.dwc.vet@alaska.gov or leave a message on the Wildlife Health Reporting and Information Line: 907-328-8354

• More information about when to submit deceased wildlife for examination is available at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=disease.main

• More information about ticks and submitting them to the Alaska Submit-A-Tick program is available at: https://dec.alaska.gov/eh/vet/ticks/submit-a-tick