Brucellosis In Dogs: Prevention, Symptoms, and Treatment

Brucellosis In Dogs

We all love our dogs and want the best for them. Unfortunately, sometimes there are conditions that cause health concerns that need to be addressed. One such condition is canine brucellosis. Canine brucellosis may not be a term you’re quite familiar with. Yet, it is a serious condition that every dog owner should learn about so they can be aware of prevention, diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment. Here is more on this condition so that you have knowledge about what causes it and what you can do to protect your own dog(s).

What is Brucellosis?

This is a contagious disease that affects the reproductive organs of both males and females. It is caused by Brucella canis, which is a small bacterial organism. It has quite a few devastating effects such as infertility, stillborn pups, weak puppies at birth, and late miscarriages in females.

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention):

B. canis was initially characterized in 1966 after several outbreaks of abortion and infertility in dogs in multiple states. Since the discovery of B. canis as a cause of abortion, outbreaks in breeding and research kennels have been sporadically reported worldwide. The primary hosts are domesticated dogs; however, B. canis in wild canids and humans has also been reported

While it is found most often in mature or older dogs, it can affect any dog at any age. And it is not breed-specific. In fact, all breeds can have brucellosis. During birth or breeding, its transmission is via infected fluids. It is crucial to know that this is a zoonotic disease. What this means is that it can be transferred to humans as well as other dogs. Other animals can be affected with this condition include elk, sheep, bison, cattle, wild pigs, and goats.

If a human does get brucellosis, tests are performed to be sure that it what it is. This can be done by looking for bacteria in samples of blood, bone marrow, or other body fluids. In addition, a blood test can be performed to detect antibodies against the bacteria.

Fortunately, this is a condition easily corrected in humans by the use of antibiotics. Recovery time ranges from a few weeks to a couple of months. While it is a serious thing with a long recovery time, there are only approximately 2 percent of fatalities. Most people take the antibiotics and heal up as good as new. Antibiotics are typically prescribed for 6 to 8 weeks. The symptoms that humans have with brucellosis are chills, fever, malaise, splenomegaly, and peripheral lymphadenomegaly

What Are the Symptoms?

This is a condition that mostly occurs in intact dogs of adult age. According to VCA Hospitals:

Male dogs infected with brucellosis develop epididymitis, an infection in part of the testicle. A dog with a newly acquired infection will often have an enlarged scrotum or an enlarged testicle and may have a skin rash on the scrotum. The dog may be infertile. In chronic or long-standing cases, the testicles will atrophy or become shrunken.

Female dogs infected with brucellosis develop an infection of the uterus; causing her to be infertile, have difficulty getting pregnant, or she may abort in the late stages of pregnancy. She often has a persistent vaginal discharge. Typically, a pregnant dog with brucellosis will abort at 45-55 days of gestation or will give birth to stillborn or weak puppies that may die a few days after birth.

Other ways to spot a potential brucellosis problem are lethargy, exercise intolerance, and weight loss. Other symptoms include trouble walking, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, and gender specific issues as mentioned above. Males may also have issues defecating due to an enlarged prostate.

How Can It Be Prevented?

Places like the American Kennel Club (AKC) suggest testing for this condition. That way, a treatment program can be started so that the condition is not spread to other animals. Yet there is controversy in what constitutes effective treatment. Some treatments include the use of antibiotics such as minocycline or doxycycline, possibly enrofloxacin. But other experts believe that euthanasia of the affected animal is the only way to prevent it from spreading. If your dog has canine brucellosis, this is something you have to discuss with your vet in order to find the right solution.

Some experts feel that the antibiotics do not effectively penetrate the cells to fully get rid of the disease. And since it can be spread to humans, this is why putting the animal down is sometimes suggested. Other experts suggest the use of antibiotics along with spaying or neutering the dog. If the dog is treated for brucellosis, follow-up testing on a regular basis is crucial.

Most ever expert agrees that there is not an effective vaccine to prevent this condition. There have been attempts to immunize the animals but it has not been successful enough to warrant it being a way of successful prevention.

It is important to note that individually caged animals have less chances of the condition than those who are surrounded by other dogs. This is due to how the brucellosis is spread and while this isn’t a 100 percent guarantee, it is better than the chances that the dog has surrounded by others who may be infected. Simply put, this condition spreads through contact and keeping dogs away from another is crucial.

How Is It Diagnosed?

This is not an easy condition to diagnosis. There are tests that can be run such as by positive culture of the bacteria in blood or tissue. And according to Pet Health Network, there are other ways to try to diagnose brucellosis.

Spinal x-rays to see if changes in the spine are consistent with brucellosis

A cytology and culture to determine if a bacterial infection is present 

A complete blood count to rule out any blood abnormalities, such as anemia

Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels

Special antibody and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for brucellosis

Even if the treatment is successful, there should be follow-up testing done to ensure that the disease is fully eradicated. According to many experts, one of the main signs is the premature abortion of puppies in pregnant females. This is why it is important to have your dogs tested or see the vet if your dog has aborted, just in case brucellosis is the problem.

As far as the testing, the Merck Manual Veterinary Manual states:

Diagnosis is based on isolation and identification of the causative agent or by serology. The organisms can usually be readily isolated from vaginal exudate, aborted pups, blood, milk, or semen of infected dogs. The most widely used serologic test is an agglutination test by a tube or slide method. Nonspecific agglutination reactions occur in some dogs. To eliminate nonspecific antibody reactions, the serum is treated with 2-mercaptoethanol and retested. An agar gel immunodiffusion test performed in some laboratories is quite specific. Other tests, such as immunofluorescence and ELISA, have been used sometimes.

How Does the Condition Spread?

Bodily fluids is the main way that brucellosis is spread. Typically the semen or vaginal secretions of the infected dog spread the disease. Another bodily fluids area where this is spread is with saliva or urine. It is important to note that a female dog that has brucellosis will sometimes abort and even after the abortion, there are discharges that are associated with this condition that continue for up to 4 – 6 weeks after.

Once another dog (or animal or person) is exposed to these bodily fluids, they can be affected by them. The most common way is through oral contamination. This is due to licking contaminated bodily fluids including urine. Some dogs may chew or lick at the placenta or aborted fetuses and it can spread that way. Other ways of transmission include through the mucous membranes including the eyes and nose, which is inhalation. And of course, sexual transmission is highly possible as well.

It cannot be stressed enough that spaying or neutering is imperative.

Make Sure Your Dog Has Coverage

Brucellosis is a condition that requires treatment and we all know how expensive it is to see the vet. One way to mitigate some of your costs is with pet insurance. Tests, office visits, and anything to do with the vet can become extremely costly yet you want to do what is right for your dog. In the case of brucellosis, even after successful antibiotic treatment, your dog will need follow-up testing for a while, just to be sure that the condition has been treated properly and your dog is in the clear. This can add up quite a bit.

Insurance ensures that your furry friend can be taken care of in the best way possible, without taking every cent you own. It’s peace of mind and it’s affordable. When it comes to your dog’s well-being, it’s worth it. It allows you to have more leeway when it comes to your finances and you do not have to choose your dog’s health versus your finances.

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