Brucellosis - Still Out There

From Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook by Delbert G. Carlson, DVM, and James M. Giffin, M.D.

"This disease is caused by a bacteria called Brucella canis.  It is an important cause of reproductive failure in dogs.  It is the leading cause of late abortions (45 to 55 days gestation). It may be at fault when a bitch delivers stillborn puppies, or puppies that sicken and die shortly after birth.  It can produce sterility in a dog and bitch without causing obvious signs of disease.

Dogs with active infection may show enlargements of the lymph nodes in the groin or beneath the jaw.  Fever is absent.  Joints may become swollen and painful.  The testicles of the male may swell up, then go on to atrophy as the sperm-producing cells are destroyed.  In others the disease goes unsuspected until there is evidence of reproductive failure.  These animals are able to transmit the infection.  In the male, bacteria may be found in the prostate gland and testicles ; in the female, in the uterus and vagina.

The bacteria is present in vaginal discharges, the products of abortion, blood, mother's milk and the semen of the male.  The most common mode of transmission is by contact with infected vaginal discharges.  In a kennel it can spread rapidly from dog to dog in this manner.  Venereal transmission is important in that males can harbor the bacteria for months or years.

A brucellosis test is available through your vet. It should be done on all dogs before mating. False positives indicate the need for more detailed lab tests.

Treatment: At present there is no effective vaccine or treatment for the prevention and cure of brucellosis in dogs.  Long-term treatment with antibiotics amy be undertaken but relapse is likely to occur when the drugs are stopped.  Pet dogs should be castrated or spayed to keep them from transmitting the disease.

To control the spread of brucellosis in a kennel, all animals must be tested and those infected removed from the premises.  Follow-up tests must be run every three months to identify new cases."

From Drs. Foster and Smith:

Much has been written on Brucellosis in breeding dogs.  Infection rates may run as high as 10%.  It is suspected that one in ten dogs in this country carries Brucellosis.  In addition, it is transmissible to humans who may develop serious liver impairment or arthritis. Medical advancements in controlling this disease have been few and far between.  It is a very difficult disorder to treat and in most cases, treatment is unsuccessful.  A prevalent attitude is that "if my dogs get it, then I will treat it."  This is a serious mistake because you probably will not cure it and, if you do, the individual will probably be sterile or a poor breeding specimen.

Brucellosis in the female dog lives in the vaginal and uterine tissue and secretions.  Litters are commonly aborted, usually in the last two weeks of gestation, or the puppies may die shortly after birth.  The female may never appear to be pregnant at all.  She can spread the bacteria to other animals through her urine, aborted fetuses, or most commonly through the act of breeding. In males, the brucella bacteria live in the testicles and seminal fluids.  An infected male is just as dangerous as the female as he can spread it via his urine or semen.  Oftentimes, there are no signs except in advanced cases when the testicles may be uneven in size.  Since Brucella canis is mainly spread by the act of breeding, it is paramount to test all canines, male and female, prior to breeding.  Test between every breeding of different animals.  In other words, if a male or female was tested one year ago but has bred since, it must be tested again.

In the case of a male, even if he serviced a female since his last test, then he must be tested again even if his last test was as recent as four weeks ago. Testing is the only sure way to detect carriers.

Testing for Brucellosis usually requires a blood test by your veterinarian and all positives should be retested for a confirmation.  When possible, all incoming breeding dogs should be isolated for two weeks upon arrival at the kennel.  At the end of two weeks, have the individual male or female tested by your vet for Brucellosis.  Do this even if the dog was tested before shipment.  This may seem excessive but you will spend a lot more money if Brucellosis creeps into your kennel, not to mention the disruption in your breeding program and loss of genetic potential.

Treatment for Brucellosis fails in most cases. Tetracycline is usually used for a four week period but success is rare. Streptomycin is occasionally effective. As a general rule, do not breed an individual that is said to be treated and cured. "Cured" patients often begin shedding the bacteria months to years after treatment. Don't knowingly take a chance.

In conclusion, test and isolate.  Do not rely on an uncertain cure.  If you do not heed these suggestions, you are playing with fire in your kennel and perhaps with your own health. Remember: One out of ten dogs may be a carrier and those are very disturbing odds.

From Drs. Foster & Smith Catalog

URL's with info on Brucellosis:

Brucellosis (individual non-vet info)