What is Brucellosis disease and what are the causes, symptoms, testing and treatment?

Original Question: Hi there! I was listening to your show on the radio Sunday morning and there was a question addressed about obtaining antibody titres for a specific issue regarding mass reproductive failures in dogs. I missed the name of the disease that causes this herd problem. Just wondering what it is called. There was mention that the illness is rare and can cause symptoms of inflammation (eyes kidneys brain tissue) or can also be more silent presenting in reproductive failure. Carriers are less symptomatic and the disease may exist in a population with minimal symptoms other than repro losses/difficulty conceiving. I'm just looking for the name of this illness... it would be wonderful it you could forward it. Thanks a million and have a wonderful day! - Laura

What is Brucellosis disease and what are the causes, symptoms, testing and treatment? Jul 24, 2017

Hi Laura,

Thanks for your question.

The disease I was talking about that day on the radio was Brucellosis caused by the bacteria Brucella canis. It is largely found in dogs but people can be infected by it although it is very rare.

It is transmitted through oral and reproductive secretions. It can also occur through ingestion, inhalation, transplacentally and through nursing but these mechanisms are more rare.

Once the bacteria is transmitted, it will typically move to the lymph nodes and genital tract tissues. In less common cases, it can spread to other tissues such as the spleen, kidneys, eyes, intervertebral discs and the nervous tissue.

Upon examination, it’s possible that no abnormalities can be found in a dog infected with Brucellosis. When they exist, male dogs can have scrotal dermatitis, testicular enlargement, reduced semen quality, enlarged lymph nodes, reduced appetite, weight loss, spinal pain, reduced vision and glaucoma. In infected female dogs that are pregnant, they will abort dead puppies between 45-60 days of gestation. Some puppies may be born stillborn or die shortly after birth. It can cause reproductive failure in males due to sterilization and in females through gestation failure. Spayed or neutered dogs can be carriers of the bacteria and pass it on to others.

Antibody titre tests are typically used to determine infection. Many different ones exist and they have their pros and cons. Some are used as a screening test done on many animals (such as the Rapid Slide Agglutination Test) whereas another test may be used to definitely confirm the diagnosis in a single animal (such as a bacterial culture test that grows the bacteria form sampled tissues).

The treatment of Brucellosis can be difficult. Therapy with multiple antibiotics is common but the infection can persist as the organism can be hidden inside cells (called intracellular persistence). The bacteria can persist in tissues even after the bacteria in the bloodstream has been cleared and so relapses are common. In some states in the US, mandatory neutering or euthanasia is required. Titre tests are performed to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment.

Infected animals should be removed from breeding programs and quarantined immediately. They should not be used again for breeding even if tests indicate clearance of the bacteria. The environment should be disinfected. Brucella canis does not live long in the environment and is readily killed by common disinfectants. Annual testing on breeding dogs should be performed annually to evaluate for Brucellosis in the population.

I hope this helps.

Dr. Clayton Greenway

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