The Veterinary Hospital – Canine Brucellosis Information Sheet

What is Canine Brucellosis?

Canine Brucellosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Brucella Canis.  It can affect several organs in a dog and affects the dog’s ability to breed.  It is zoonotic meaning it can spread to humans and cause disease in people.  Dog to human transmission (and indeed human to human transmission) is rare, but the disease and outcomes can be serious, especially with the very young, the very old, anyone who is immunocompromised or pregnant.

Where is Canine Brucellosis found?

Brucella is found throughout the world, but is more prevalent in certain countries, with some countries being free from disease.  The UK is considered free of the disease but there have been a rise in cases in imported dogs, the majority of which have come from Eastern Europe.

Which dogs are infected with Canine Brucellosis?

Canine Brucellosis can infect all ages, breeds and both sexes of dogs, although it is more common in adult dogs.

How is Canine Brucellosis transmitted?

Brucella is transmitted via bodily fluids (most commonly; vaginal discharge, semen, birth fluids and urine, but also; blood, milk, saliva, and faeces).  Birth and breeding are the most common times for transmission of the disease.

What are the symptoms of brucellosis in dogs?

Many dogs will show no signs of infection at all, but these are some of the symptoms your dog might experience:

  • Lethargy
  • Lameness or difficulty walking (due to back pain)
  • Miscarriage or weak, small and sickly puppies
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Persistent vaginal discharge or swollen testicles
  • A rash on their scrotum
  • Ocular changes

Dogs with Brucellosis will often miscarry a first pregnancy and become infertile. If they do manage to become pregnant, they may go to term but the puppies can be weak and may die soon after birth. Apparently healthy puppies can also be infected and suffer lifelong health problems.

What does canine brucellosis do to humans?

In humans Brucellosis can cause fever, chills, headaches, night sweats, swollen lymph glands fatigue and weight loss. In pregnant women there is a greater risk of miscarriage, foetal death and premature labour.

How is it diagnosed?

The recommendation from the British Veterinary Association, APHA and DEFRA is that we test all animals imported to the UK, but especially those imported form eastern European countries. It can take 4 months for the body to develop antibodies to an infection, so testing should be performed from 4 months after import.  We offer an in house screening test with results back the same day. Any positive tests will require an additional external laboratory tests for confirmation which we have to send off to the government (APHA laboratories).

What is the treatment for Canine Brucellosis?

While there are treatments which can help to some extent, there is no cure for this condition so once infected, dogs are infected for life. They may suffer some symptoms or not show any signs at all.

Antibiotics can help manage the condition but won’t completely clear it – they can continue to shed bacteria and potentially infect other animals and humans.

Unfortunately, we do not know the relationship between clinical signs and the likelihood of spreading the disease to other animals or people, as it is possible for an animal showing no clinical signs to shed the bacteria. Therefore, our primary recommendation is to test all at risk animals.

Although the condition may not be immediately life threatening, it can have a huge impact on the dog’s quality of life. To avoid spreading the disease they mustn’t mix with other animals, which means you need to avoid areas that are frequented by other dogs. As many dogs are social creatures, this can have a detrimental effect on their ability to socialise and interact with their surroundings. They should also not be close to pregnant women or those that are trying to conceive. Babies and young children are also at an increased risk.

It is possible for a pet to live with Brucella, but this has to be weighed up against the quality of life for the pet and the risk to those surrounding them.

What should I consider when importing a dog to the UK?

If you’ve already imported your pet, make sure you get them tested and confirm they’re free from infection. By law, vets must report any Brucellosis infections to the Government.

Brucellosis isn’t the only disease that a foreign dog can harbour – there are a whole range of illnesses which aren’t commonly seen in the UK and it’s sensible to make sure your new pet is fit and healthy. Once they’re in the UK it’s a good idea to get your dog tested (or retested) to confirm they aren’t carrying any unexpected diseases. These can include:

  • leishmania
  • heartworm
  • erlichia canis
  • hepatozoon canis
  • babesia

If you’re thinking about adopting a dog from abroad you need to ask the rescue centre plenty of questions about the animal’s health and any screening tests they may perform on their rescues. Depending on the shelters policies and normal testing routines, you may need to arrange for tests to be carried out by a vet in the country they are coming from and make sure you see evidence of a negative test from a laboratory before you bring them over.

Why should we be concerned?

In 2020, there were 40 recorded cases of Canine Brucellosis compared to just 2 the year before, and vets suspect it’s due to the number of dogs being imported from abroad.  This is a huge increase in percentage terms and while cases are still very low in relation to Britain’s estimated 13 million canine population it’s important to be vigilant and it is our responsibility to increase awareness so you can make sure you and your dog stay healthy.

Other rare illnesses have been spotted too with a 2018 survey by the British Veterinary Association revealing 40% of companion animal vets had seen new or rare conditions in UK pets. Some of these were potentially zoonotic, meaning they could also infect humans.  The consequence of this for the individuals involved could be significant.

What do I need to do?

We require all newly registered dogs from outside of the UK, and all those imported dogs who have been registered with us for less than one year to be tested for the condition before we can perform any surgical procedures.

We strongly recommend all other owners of imported dogs to consider allowing us to test their pet for the disease.

If your pet is already registered with us and you have documentation of brucellosis testing after they have been in the UK for 4 months, please bring this in and give to reception so we can update your file.

If your pet has been imported but has had no testing then please contact our veterinary team for advice and we can arrange for them to be tested to check their status and update their file.  If your pet has been here for more than 4 months a single test is needed (cost £30).  If your animal has only just been imported then a test now, then another in 4 months time would be required (total cost £60).

If you are thinking of importing a dog then please also seek advice. Our veterinary team will consider each case individually to give you the best recommendations for you and your pet or indeed future pet.  If you have any other questions then please contact a member of Team VH, we will be happy to help!

Have a question or want to get in touch? Talk to one of our friendly team members today!