Canine brucellosis: everything you need to know

13 Oct 2023

WHAT IS CANINE BRUCELLOSIS?

Canine brucellosis is an infectious disease that is caused by the Brucella canis bacterium. It can cause reproductive problems in male and female dogs, and it can also pose serious health risks to humans that are exposed to it. Dogs usually don’t show any signs or symptoms, and this can lead to them developing illness later in life. Brucellosis typically affects the reproductive organs and can cause female dogs to miscarry puppies. It can also cause back and joint pain and swelling, as well as various other symptoms.

HOW IS BRUCELLA CANIS SPREAD?

The Brucella canis bacterium is usually spread through infected fluids such as blood, saliva and urine. The greatest risk of exposure is through dogs breeding and giving birth. Dogs that have been imported into the UK or have come into close contact with brucellosis are generally at a higher risk of infection. Brucellosis can be contracted at any age. Puppies are generally at a higher risk of infection as they can be born with the disease if their mother has it. They can also become infected through fluids associated with birthing and ingestion of infected milk from their mothers. If a dog tests positive, they are considered infected for life.

ARE CATS AND OTHER ANIMALS AT RISK OF INFECTION?

Disease in other animals is very rare. Cats have been reported to produce antibodies to the Brucella canis bacterium and there have been no known cases of brucellosis in cats.

CAN BRUCELLOSIS BE TREATED?

Sadly, there is no effective treatment for canine brucellosis. If a dog tests positive, in many cases, vets will recommend putting them to sleep due to the risk to humans and other dogs.

CAN PEOPLE GET BRUCELLOSIS?

While the risk of transmission from dog to human is generally considered low, people who are more likely to come into contact with birthing dogs – such as vets, nurses and dog breeders – are at a greater risk. Although the disease is less infectious to people than it is to dogs, it can cause health problems for children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems. Human to human transmission is very rare. Symptoms are usually mild. The most common signs and symptoms include a continued or irregular fever, sometimes accompanied by loss of appetite, weight loss, sweating, headaches, fatigue, back and/or joint pain. It’s important to get treated to prevent more serious health problems.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME AS A PET OWNER?

The British Veterinary Association advises anyone looking to adopt or buy an imported dog to make sure they have been tested for brucellosis and neutered before being brought into the UK. We advise anyone looking to rehome an animal from overseas to go through a reputable rescue organisation that is either a member of the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes or has a long history of caring for dogs and cats. It’s very important that the organisation carries out thorough vet checks and provides vaccination records that have been verified by a vet. It’s also important that the appropriate travel documentation proves the animal has a clean bill of health and is travelling legally. It’s advisable that the dog is tested for Brucella canis in addition to other diseases before being brought into the UK.

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WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR BATTERSEA?

Battersea supports stricter pet import measures, including mandatory pre-import testing to minimise the spread of brucellosis, as well as other diseases. We believe it’s important to protect our staff, volunteers, the wider public and their animals from contracting brucellosis. Therefore, we will be testing all dogs and puppies that have a history of risk of being imported from overseas, as well as a history of foreign travel from countries where the Brucella canis bacterium is prevalent. Where animals have been in the country for over three months, pet owners are encouraged to pursue brucellosis testing with their vet prior to admission at our centres. In line with Government guidance, any dogs that test positive for brucellosis won’t be suitable for rehoming through Battersea due to the risk to human and animal health.