July 24, 2019 Dogs

Canine Brucellosis: Reemergence of an Old Disease

A Golden Retriever sitting on the floor

Canine Brucellosis: Reemergence of an Old Disease

Canine brucellosis is in the news again. The AP recently reported nine cases of canine brucellosis in puppies from a breeder in Iowa. This outbreak is just another in series of canine brucellosis cases that have occurred since 2006. One large outbreak occurred in Michigan facilities breeding pet-quality puppies. Dogs from eleven states were involved in the Michigan outbreak due to interstate movement of dogs for breeding, for sale and relinquishment to rescue organizations.

What is canine brucellosis?

Canine brucellosis is a contagious disease that’s the leading cause of reproductive disease in dogs. Although uncommon, it can also spread to humans who contact an infected dog. The bacteria causing brucellosis was discovered on the island of Malta over 150 years ago. Initially, the bacteria were associated with reproductive disorders in cattle, sheep and pigs. In 1966, a form of the bacteria was found in dogs and named Brucella canis. This bacterium circulates in feral dogs in the Middle East, Africa and Latin American.

What are the clinical signs of brucellosis?

Because Brucella canis is a reproductive disease, infected dogs often appear healthy. Clinical signs arise during pregnancy, including infertility, spontaneous abortions and stillbirths. The bacteria can also infect a dog’s backbone, which can be very painful. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms for humans include flu-like signs: fever, sweats, headache, joint pain, fatigue and weakness.

How is brucellosis spread?

The Brucella bacterium is typically spread from dog to dog during mating, explaining why the disease became problematic in the Michigan facilities breeding pet dogs. The bacteria can also spread through urine and vaginal discharge. Brucella passes in the mother’s milk to puppies.

Brucella can spread long distances when dogs travel. Purebred dogs from breeding kennels sold to another kennel may infect the destination kennel. International transport of dogs for dog shows can also move the bacteria to a new location. In the case of the Michigan outbreak, infected dogs were relinquished to rescue organizations and carried the disease with them on to their new homes. Stray dogs adopted into forever homes are a potential source of the disease for humans.

As a dog owner, should I be concerned?

The short answer is yes, but the CDC says most pet owners have a very low risk of contracting Brucellosis. If you are adopting a new puppy or dog, inquire as to where she is from. You should have greater concern for Brucella if your new pet is from the central part of the United States – from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and directly south of those states. Dogs originating from pet-quality breeders or stray dogs being rehomed are also at greater risk for carrying Brucella.

Ask your veterinarian if your new dog should be tested from Brucellosis. If you are concerned you have been exposed to Brucella bacteria, contact your family physician. The CDC, state and local health departments have resources to assist both your physician and veterinarian in managing this disease.