Albuquerque woman warns pet owners after dog dies of ‘rabbit fever’

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – At least one Albuquerque dog has died from a rare, bacterial disease. Now his owner, through her grief, wants you to know what happened, so you don’t go through the same heartbreak. 

Whimsy was much more than a pet for Linda Stallings. 

“She wasn’t just important to us, she was a family member,” said Stallings. 

And the 9-year-old Basset Griffon Vendeen knew it too.

“When you walked in she rolled over so you could rub her belly, that she just loved people,” said Stallings. 

That’s why, when Whimsy started vomiting in late July, Stallings wasted no time getting her to a vet. 

“He checked her and he said ‘she’s got a little water in her belly,’” Stallings said. “He said that it’s not that uncommon, but it’s very uncomfortable for the dog.”

Whimsy got better with antibiotics but returned to the vet’s office a few weeks later — now coughing up blood.

“That was heartbreaking. I didn’t go in to see her, because she didn’t want us to leave,” said Stallings. 

The vets kept her on oxygen for five days and while they searched for answers, Stallings’ neighbor revealed Whimsy was not alone.

“One of her horses got very, very sick,” said Stallings. 

And that neighbor’s dog’s belly was also full of water. Hours later, the neighbor called and told Stallings that her dog passed away.

“She had so much water in her stomach. He said it looked like she got hit by a car,” said Stallings. 

Stallings then learned her neighbor found several dead rabbits in her yard days earlier. 

“She found out they have what they call rabbit- they can get rabbit fever, and that can cause them to die,” said said. 

But rabbit fever is not something vets test for very often

“I’ve been working in Albuquerque for 18 and a half years as a veterinarian. I’ve never actually diagnosed a case,” said Dr. Nicholas Hopkins, a veterinarian at VCA Animal Hospital. 

Rabbit fever, otherwise known as tularemia, is a highly-contagious bacteria and is mostly spread through rabbits –but experts say most animals can catch it even humans.

Whimsy’s vet ordered a test kit from the state and the result was positive. 

“He bulked her up on all kinds of- she came home with six medications. Okay, and we kept her alive for a few weeks,” said Stallings. 

Eventually, Whimsy’s lungs filled with fluid and Stallings had to say goodbye. 

“We euthanized her right then and there, and it was just very sad. I mean, she’s our fur baby, you know, its sad,” she said. 

Vets say antibiotics can treat rabbit fever, but pet owners need to act fast. They say pet owners need to look for vomiting, diarrhea, and a loss of energy. 

Now, Stallings hopes her pain means fewer families will go through it, too. 

“I just want to stop crying. I haven’t stopped crying since that happened,” said Stallings. “I just want people to please be aware.”

KOB 4 reached out to the New Mexico Department of Health about rabbit fever. 

A spokesperson says there’s been four reported cases this year, including three dogs. He recommends pet owners keep up with flea and tick medications, and prevent pets from roaming or hunting outside. 

Stallings says many of her neighbors have already gotten their pets checked for rabbit fever.

Click here for more information on rabbit fever, also known as tularemia.