Brucellosis confirmed at Iowa dog breeder’s facility

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • Multiple cases of canine brucellosis, a contagious bacterial disease that infects dogs and can be transmitted to humans, were confirmed in Iowa, at a small dog commercial breeding facility in Marion County, in May 2019
  • Brucellosis is a venereal disease, which typically causes an infection of the reproductive system and is a leading cause of infertility and abortions in dogs
  • Brucellosis is spread through via bodily fluids during sexual activity, as well as through contact with infected birthing tissues and fluids, milk, blood, semen and contaminated objects, such as bedding
  • Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted to humans; those most at risk are breeders, veterinarians and others who may come into contact with canine birthing materials
  • In humans, brucellosis may lead to fever, sweats, headache, joint pain and weakness, which can easily be mistaken for other conditions
  • Animals that have been infected with Brucella should never be bred, and avoid supporting any breeders who are not actively testing for this disease prior to breeding

Multiple cases of canine brucellosis, a contagious bacterial disease that infects dogs and can be transmitted to humans, were confirmed in Iowa, at a small dog commercial breeding facility in Marion County, in May 2019.1 The state notified individuals who received dogs from the facilities and also put the facilities under quarantine while the dogs underwent additional clinical testing.

While I recommend adopting dogs from animal shelters or rescues, if you're thinking of breeding your dog or getting a dog from a breeder you've extensively researched, this is one disease that should be tested for before breeding occurs.

Signs and symptoms of brucellosis

Brucellosis is a venereal disease, which typically causes an infection of the reproductive system and is a leading cause of infertility and abortions in dogs. While some dogs can be infected without showing any symptoms, when left untreated brucellosis can lead to enlarged lymph nodes and inflammation of the spleen and liver.

In male dogs, swollen scrotal sacs, shrinkage of the testicles and infertility may occur, while the first sign of the disease in pregnant females may be an aborted pregnancy that occurs late term. Brucella canis (B. canis) is the bacteria responsible for brucellosis in dogs, although other forms may also cause brucellosis in livestock, such as sheep, cattle and goats, and wildlife, such as bison, elk and wild pigs.2

Over time, chronic immune stimulation by the Brucella bacteria can result in inflammation of the discs of the spine (known as discospondylitis), uveitis (deep eye inflammation), glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidneys that results in protein loss) and multiple joint arthritis (polyarthritis). It can also cause symptoms such as behavioral abnormalities, lethargy and weight loss.3

Brucellosis is spread via bodily fluids during sexual activity, as well as through contact with infected birthing tissues and fluids, milk, blood, semen and contaminated objects, such as bedding. Urine and saliva may also contain brucellosis bacteria, though generally in smaller amounts than are found in genital secretions.

Dogs may be infected by licking contaminated fluids, inhalation of contaminated material or via exposure to other mucous membranes, such as the eyes. If a female dog has a late-term abortion due to brucellosis, she will continue to release infected fluids for four to six weeks.4

B. canis can also survive in the environment for months under certain conditions, which is why it's important to disinfect any areas exposed to infected fluids thoroughly.

Is brucellosis dangerous to people?

Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted to humans. However, infection in humans is rare. Those most at risk are breeders, veterinarians and others who may come into contact with canine birthing materials. People with weakened immune systems, young children and pregnant women may be at an increased risk of developing severe symptoms from the disease.5

In humans, brucellosis may lead to fever, sweats, headache, joint pain and weakness, which can easily be mistaken for other conditions. In rare cases, the condition can progress to nervous system, eye or heart problems, along with chronic symptoms such as recurrent fevers, joint pain and fatigue.6

If you have contact with dogs that are giving birth, the Iowa Department of Public Health recommends reducing your risk of infection by:7

  • Testing dogs for brucellosis prior to breeding, and not breeding infected animals
  • Wearing rubber gloves, a face mask and protective eyewear when delivering puppies or cleaning birthing areas
  • Double bagging all birthing products and contaminated materials and disposing of them in the trash
  • Disinfecting contaminated surfaces with a 2.5% bleach solution (2 parts bleach to 3 parts cool water); let the solution sit on the surface for 10 minutes before wiping clean
  • Washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after touching animals and cleaning kennels
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How is brucellosis diagnosed and treated?

In dogs, the rapid slide agglutination test is commonly used for diagnosis. While a negative result means your dog does not have brucellosis, a positive result may be due to closely related bacteria types as well, leading to a potential false positive. Due to this, a positive result on a rapid slide agglutination test requires further testing to confirm brucellosis.

The agar gel immunodiffusion test is considered the most accurate test for the disease. As for treatment, long-term antibiotic therapy is sometimes used to lower levels of bacteria in the bloodstream, but it does not cure the disease. Holistic veterinarians may also sue immune supportive herbs, nutraceuticals and homeopathics to support the immune system.

While a dog found to have B. canis bacteria is considered positive for brucellosis for life, natural recovery can occur, with it sometimes taking five years for the infection to be cleared from the dog's body. Dogs who naturally recover from this disease can't be re-infected, whereas dogs treated with antibiotics can acquire the infection again.

It's important for breeders to understand that animals that have been infected with Brucella should never be bred, and avoid supporting any breeders who are not actively testing for this disease prior to breeding.

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