This zoonotic (can spread to humans) infection is on the increase due to a larger number of imported dogs coming into the UK. Luckily it is still very uncommon in UK born dogs. To protect dogs under our care and our staff we are starting to request testing of all imported dogs.
What is Brucellosis?
Brucella canis (B.canis) is a highly contagious bacterial infection. Sadly, despite many studies, there is no guaranteed cure for the B.canis in dogs as antibiotics cannot effectively penetrate the cell to eradicate the bacteria.
B. canis is endemic across Southern and Eastern Europe. We have seen a marked increase in the number of dogs imported from countries like Romania. This has meant more infected dogs have come into the UK. An imported dog in Paignton has tested positive this year.
How does it affect dogs?
In dogs, B.canis might not cause any signs of ill health and, although the dog may appear normal, it can quietly cause fertility issues and abortion in pregnant bitches.
These carrier dogs can spread the infection in discharge during birth, aborted material, during mating or in semen, blood, urine and saliva.
In addition, the bacteria tend to spread to other tissues, such as the eyes, spinal discs, joints, liver, spleen and lymph nodes, causing damage and a variety of signs such as fatigue, fever, inappetence, swellings and pain.
How does it affect humans?
Brucellosis can cause abortion or infertility in humans so pregnant women or those trying to conceive are at increased risk.
Symptoms are often mild and non-specific. The most common signs and symptoms of human infection include a continued, intermittent, or irregular fever sometimes accompanied by loss of appetite, weight loss, sweating, headaches, fatigue, back and/or joint pain.
If not treated the disease may become chronic and more serious symptoms can arise. Immuno-compromised people are most at risk, as well as children and pregnant women.
What should you do?
If you have imported a dog from Eastern or Southern Europe then you should get your dog blood tested for Brucella canis (B.canis).
The disease is normally associated with breeding as a sexually transmitted disease from dog to dog. If you have mated your dog, bred your dog or had Artificial Insemination then you should have your dog tested.
If an emergency occurs we may not be able to treat your dog without knowing the disease status. Getting your dog tested now means we know whether it is positive or negative.
What are we doing?
We need to protect dogs who are in our care and also our staff, especially those of child bearing age who may be pregnant or trying to conceive. The highest risk dogs are those that have been imported or mated/bred from.
Therefore, we are now routinely testing all of these dogs for Brucellosis before carrying out any procedure involving caesarian sections, whelping, pyometra surgery, joint surgery and dentistry or bodily fluids, such as urine, blood, and saliva.
Without a negative test we are unable to hospitalise or treat these dogs surgically as they may infect the environment around them or our staff caring for them.
Humans most at risk include those in prolonged close contact, those who help with mating and whelping, those handling samples of bodily fluid and veterinary teams, especially during surgical procedures.
Why should I get my dog tested?
The risk of your dog being infected is very low. However, if your dog tests positive then they are a risk to you (especially pregnant women, children and the immunocompromised) and our staff. In a non-emergency situation we will repeat the test to ensure that they are truly positive. An emergency situation with no prior test may make treatment impossible due to the risks to our staff. If this situation occurs euthanasia may be the only option available.
To reduce this risk we strongly recommend that all imported dogs are tested prior to needing any treatment with the more accurate APHA (Animal Plant Health Agency) laboratory test. We can perform a “snap test” in an emergency but there is an increased chance of it saying your dog is positive rather than negative. This could mean delays to required treatment.
Sadly, there is no treatment for dogs if they are infected. Any positive cases must be reported to APHA (Animal Plant Health Agency) and the UK Health Security Agency may be involved.