Safety & Health



Tularemia in a rabbit liver
Tularemia in a rabbit liver
James Runnigen, U.S. Geological Survey

Is that rabbit safe to eat?

Few game species can match the eastern cottontail for fine eating, but before you put that rabbit on the stove, take a minute to inspect it to make sure it’s healthy. Tularemia is a disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. It can be transmitted by various means, but a common path of infection in humans is through contact with infected animal tissue, including blood. Tularemia is transmitted to rabbits through the bite of an infected tick or deer fly. Infected rabbits usually die within a few days of infection, so exposure is less likely in cold months when ticks and biting flies are less numerous and active. Waiting for cold weather to hunt may reduce your risk for encountering an infected rabbit, but it will not eliminate the risk.

Hunters cleaning rabbits should wear latex or nitrile gloves to prevent blood and tissue from contacting their skin, especially if they have any cuts or open wounds on their hands or fingers. While eviscerating the rabbit, check the liver for numerous white lesions about the size of a pin head. If you find these, the rabbit should be discarded and not eaten. Tularemia can also be transmitted through consumption of meat that is not thoroughly cooked, so be sure to heat rabbit meat to a safe temperature that kills any potential disease (minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit).

If you come down with flu-like symptoms after handling rabbits, you should seek medical attention and notify your doctor that you might have been exposed to tularemia. Treatment with antibiotics is standard for infected persons.

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Tularemia (Rabbit Fever)

Tularemia is caused by bacterium called Francisella tularensis.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2)

A single dead rabbit is not cause for alarm unless there is a blood stained nose. For your safety, do not handle dead rabbits and wait for further instruction from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Check the Code

This is NOT a legal document. Regulations are subject to revision during the current year.
Refer to the Wildlife Code.