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Pet owners warned after more cats contract, die from rare infection

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Cat owners in the Twin Cities have been put on alert by veterinarians after a small outbreak of a rare animal disease.

Tularemia is a bacterial infection that naturally occurs in wildlife such as rabbits, squirrels and other rodents; but it is rare, with fewer than five animals diagnosed with it each year in Minnesota.

In May, two cats and one rabbit had contracted the disease in the Twin Cities, but since then it has spiked following five more confirmed or suspected cases in cats, the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory told BringMeTheNews.

According to KARE 11, five of the cats infected this year have died.

Cats are the most commonly affected domestic pet in Minnesota, and outdoor cats are at highest risk as they may hunt rabbits carrying the disease, the U said in this news release in May. Ticks and flies can also transmit it through bites.

Infected cats could show symptoms that include a have a high fever, mouth ulcers, depression and a loss of appetite. Dogs can get it too but rarely show signs, although some may have an abscess at the point of infection, a loss of appetite and fever.

Humans can also contract it – though only up to three cases are confirmed in Minnesota each year, mainly in people who have had contact with wild rabbits. This can cause a fever, swollen lymph nodes, and skin or mouth ulcers. It is treated with antibiotics.

Cat owners are encouraged to keep their pets indoors. If that's not possible, monitor their outdoor activities when possible and try to limit their hunting.

Anyone concerned that their pet has contracted the disease should call their veterinarian.

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