What Is Canine Brucellosis

Canine brucellosis is an infections disease caused by the Brucella bacteria. The illness in dogs is caused by Brucella canis (B. canis). The Brucella organism is a unique type of bacteria that prefers to live and replicate inside of cells. It also has a special affinity for a chemical only made by cells of the reproductive tract. Thus, Brucellosis affects the reproductive tract of the dog and bitch.

 How is Canine Brucellosis Transmitted

It has long been thought, and is still the common perception that Brucellosis is only a sexually transmitted disease. THIS INFORMATION IS INCORRECT. Canine Brucellosis is most often transmitted through sexual contact or nose or mouth contact with the vaginal discharge of an infected female while in heat, abortion or whelping. However, it can also be transmitted through contact with the urine, saliva, nasal and ocular secretions and feces of an infected animal. Bitches can transfer the disease to any live offspring. My dogs in particular are a perfect example of non-sexual transmission. My male was infected by a dog at a dog show (probably through nasal/vaginal contact) with no sexual contact, and our beloved Jersey was already spayed when she contracted it through being kenneled with Luke. This is the reason we, as breeders and dog owners, must lobby for required testing for all dogs being admitted to a show grounds, those in shelters, and annual tests for all dogs that are still complete. In order to eradicate this disease, we must test, and destroy, all animals that carry it.

 What are the signs of Canine Brucellosis

Unfortunately, there are very few overt signs of this disease in the early stages. You might notice the hair coat being lackluster, lethargy, soreness in the back/spine, and in males they might have a green discharge in the scrotum and surrounding hair. Unfortunately these are also common signs of a dog that is just a hard keeper. Once the disease is in its active stage females will often abort a litter between 45 and 59 days, or the litter will be weak and many pups will not survive. There will be prolonged vaginal discharge following the abortion. They may also fail to conceive, reabsorbing the embryos at about 10 days to 2 weeks. Males will eventually become sterile, have abnormal semen quality, and the testicles will atrophy. They may have an inflamed prostate, be unwilling to breed and have inflamed lymph nodes. Some will eventually get infection in the bones or joints and show signs of arthritis and infections of the eye.

 Can my dog be cured

The simple answer is NO. The bacteria lives in the bloodstream and then infects other parts of the dog's body, such as joints and bones. In males, the bacteria continues to live in the prostate gland even after any treatment. No dogs in a breeding program should be treated for brucellosis, they should be destroyed. Pets may be spayed/neutered and go through a long treatment of antibiotics, however, they may continue to be a source of infection to other dogs and and to humans. Even dogs who have gone through treatment and had negative tests may relapse and again infect other dogs and humans. It is recommended that any dog that becomes infected be euthanized. Testing for this disease is difficult. The first test is an RSAT that can be done by a local lab, or your vet if they have the facilities. Unfortunately a positive from this test is often incorrect, so any positives then need to be sent on to Cornell for an AGID test. As of this time, the Cornell test is considered the most accurate, however, if your dog is in the early stages they may test negative on the AGID. Any dog knowingly exposed should be tested again at 30 to 45 days after exposure. The reason for this is that the RSAT and the AGID only test for the antibodies produced by the dogs system to try to fight the disease. So if they are recently infected, they might not test positive for at least 45 days. The veterinary college at Ames, Iowa State Veterinary College, is currently conducting field tests on a new procedure that tests for the bacteria itself. They are having very good results, and from personal experience, they can detect a positive before the Cornell AGID test does. If you think your dog may have been exposed I would recommend contacting Christine Peterson at the veterinary college for more information on this new test.

 How can I protect my dogs

There are some things you can do, however, infection actually rests with other breeders and owners that you can't control. First, test your breeding females before each breeding, especially if they have had any contact with dogs that don't belong to your kennel. Test your males at least every six months. Any new dog brought onto your property should be isolated for at least 45 days and tested at that time before coming into contact with your other dogs. If you show your dogs, those taken to the show should also be isolated for 45 days, and tested. If you breed outside females, they should come to you with a negative brucellosis test that has been done within the week. Then get them off your property as quickly as possible, or test them again at 45 days. If you take your female to an outside male, be sure he has been tested within the last few days, and then isolate the female for 45 days after bringing her back home. I know this is a lot of work, however, your dog, like mine, could be infected just by sniffing the vaginal area of an infected female that he sees at a show. It can be that simple, and that horrible. The best way to protect our dogs is to lobby for changes in state and federal law, as well as lobbying AKC and other breed groups as well as small clubs to require negative brucellosis tests on any dogs registered with them, and any being shown at their sanctioned shows.

 Can I get Brucellosis from my dog

YES. There is quite a bit of confusing information on this topic, but all articles indicate we are able to contract the disease from our dogs. It is rare, however, especially those who are around females that have aborted litters are at risk. The discharge from the vagina is full of the bacteria, and we can catch it from a cut or contact with our mucus membranes. The people most likely to contact the disease are children, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. The bacteria can also be transmitted through contact with infected saliva and urine (like if you let your dog lick you in the face, or your children allow them to like their hands and then put them in their mouth). Signs of infection are flu-like symptoms, high fever, abortions in women and inflammation of the testicles in men. One article indicated there is some evidence that it can cause infertility in children who become infected.

 How do I eradicate brucellosis once my kennel is infected

First, you need to make the difficult decision to euthanize any dogs that are found to be positive for the disease. Keeping even one dog, even if you steralize it and go through the antibiotic treatment can reinfect your kennel if that dog has a relapse, and you never know when that will happen, or if it will. The bacteria is easily destroyed by a 1/32 ratio of bleach. All kennels should be sprayed until they are soaked, and the solution needs to stay wet for at least 10 minutes. Then you can wash down with water, or just let it dry. Any porous items, such as plastic bowls, beds, toys, collars or leashes should be thrown away. If your dog house is wood, it should be sprayed with bleach and then painted to prevent any of the micro-organisms from remaining in the wood or seams of the wood. Any common areas, like yards, that can't be decontaminated, should be left without dogs for at least 60 days. The bacteria can live for 60 days in damp soil and up to 144 days at 20C and 40% humidity. It can live 30 days in urine, 75 days in aborted fetusus and over 200 days in uterine exudate. It can live years if frozen, so if your outbreak is in the winter you will need to decontaminate in the spring.

I hope this information has helped you. If you have comments or suggestions please feel free to e-mail me. I would also appreciate any help in contacting breed registries, rescue leagues, shelters, show organizations and state/federal legislators to push for state and federal control of this disease.

The following are some, but not all of the web sites used for the information provided above.

Canine Brucellosis Q & A for Dog Owners
Brucellosis FAQs for Dog Owners
Centers For Disease Control