Fairbanks area pet owners are being warned to keep a close eye on their pets after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said they've been receiving calls about sick and dead hares in the area over the last few weeks.

According to a release from the department, the hares are from Fairbanks and Kenny Lake. Necropsies show that they may have had tularemia, a disease that can be fatal to dogs and cats if left untreated.

Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen, the ADFG veterinarian, says tularemia outbreaks in hares are reported in the Fairbanks North Star Borough every May and June. Dogs and cats can get the disease if they come into contact with sick hares.

"An infection caused by the Francisella tularensis bacteria, tularemia is most often diagnosed in hares and pets in the Interior between Memorial Day and Labor Day because it is spread by hare and vole ticks which are active during the summer," the release states. "The tick species known to carry the bacteria prefer hares and rodents, but will occasionally bite dogs, cats, or people. Two species of dog ticks have become established around urban areas in Alaska and can spread the bacteria."

Pets typically get tularemia from mouthing or catching sick hares. In later stages of the disease, hares are slower and can be easily caught by pets. ADFG says people can also get infected from handling the hares or their infected pet's saliva. The disease can be fatal if left untreated, but it's curable with antibiotics when diagnosed quickly.

“Tularemia in humans is rare and can be avoided by taking safety precautions," Dr. Beckman said. "Do not allow your pets to roam free or have access to hares. Dogs and cats that go outdoors can be treated with a veterinary product that will kill ticks within 24 hours so that disease transmission doesn’t occur from ticks feeding on pets."

If your pet comes into contact with a dead hare, ADFG says you should wear gloves or use a plastic bag to take the animal away from your pet and wash your hands thoroughly after handling anything coming out of your pet's mouth.

"Thoroughly wash any scratches, bites, or wounds made by pets or wildlife, immediately with soap and water, and seek medical attention, especially if fever, redness, swelling or flu-like symptoms appear afterward. Double bag and dispose of dead hares in the trash or bury where dogs and scavengers cannot get to them," the release states.

ADFG says the most common symptoms of tularemia in people and pets are lethargy, high fever and swollen lymph nodes. For more information, visit their website here.

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