The Threat of Canine Brucellosis: Myth or Menace?
by Ed & Chris Faron
Copyright 1995 by Ed & Chris Faron. This article is from our book The Complete Gamedog and also appeared in the May/June 1995 issue of Your Friend and Mine.
Even though we have seen this disease mentioned in articles before, we thought it was something that needed to be covered in a little more detail. We have heard a lot of untruths and misinformation about Brucellosis (even veterinarians we've asked about it sometimes contradict each other) and we found it very frustrating to try and figure out what to believe. We set out to try and discover everything we could about Brucellosis and thought we would share this information with other dogmen.
Brucellosis is a disease of the reproductive tract which may cause abortion in females, infection of the sexual organs in males, and infertility in both sexes. It is caused by a bacteria of which there are several different types that infect specifically cows, goats, pigs, horses, sheep or dogs. Though there have been isolated incidences of dogs becoming infected by contact with livestock infected with one of the other species of Brucella bacteria, the bacteria that infects dogs specifically is called Brucella canis. It is spread by contact with the semen or vaginal discharge of an infected dog or bitch (most commonly during mating), by contact with mammary secretions and aborted puppies, and can also possibly be spread by contact with urine or other body secretions. In indoor kennel situations, it may even possibly be spread by the airborne route. It can be contagious to humans, in whom it causes flu-like symptoms.
Symptoms of Canine Brucellosis
Females: Abortion of litters, usually between 45-55 days after breeding, litters with some pups born dead or dying immediately after birth, and pups that die at the embryo stage and are reabsorbed -- in such cases it may appear that the bitch didn't take.
Males: Inflammation of the epididymis, prostate and/or testicles (often leading to testicular atrophy), infertility because of abnormal sperm and poor sperm motility, and reluctance to breed due to pain caused by inflammation of the sex organs. Males may also cause lesions by licking at the painful area.
Both sexes: Swollen lymph nodes. Some dogs may show non-specific signs of poor health, such as poor vigor. In rare cases the disease has caused damage to the kidneys and nervous system.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the disease is it's insidiousness; the above symptoms are not always seen -- in many cases an infected dog may show no outward signs at all. Infected bitches will have normal heat cycles and breed normally, in fact in many cases a bitch infected with Brucellosis, after aborting a litter, may conceive and whelp a live litter subsequently. The danger in this is that such a bitch can infect any males she is bred to, and her puppies will most likely be carriers of the disease and go on to infect other dogs.
Most experts estimate 1% to 6% of the canine population are infected, with the main source of the disease being stray dogs. There is no vaccine for this disease in dogs, and treatment, which usually consists of prolonged administration of Tetracycline and Streptomycin, may not be effective. The only prevention is to have all broodstock tested for the disease before breeding. The test for the disease is a simple and relatively inexpensive blood test. Many veterinarians will say that the test is unnecessary because the disease is very uncommon; but while it is true that Brucellosis is not very prevalent to begin with (and probably even rarer in bulldogs than many other breeds because dogs are kept isolated from each other, so it doesn't t get spread by grown dogs being kenneled together) we would still recommend having breeding dogs tested for the disease.
Canine Brucellosis is a very serious disease, not because dogs are very likely to contract the disease, but because of the consequences if a dog does become infected. The disease itself will not kill your dog, but your dog will be genetically ‘dead because he or she will be unbreedable -- even if the disease does not render the dog sterile. A dog that has tested positive for Brucellosis should not be bred, not even by artificial insemination. Bringing one infected dog into a breeding program could wipe out years of work establishing a family of dogs.
Additionally, because of the threat of transmitting the disease to humans, if you have a dog that tests positive for the disease in some states the health department can demand the dog be destroyed. The disease is most often transmitted to a human being by handling aborted pups from a bitch with Brucellosis. For this reason, if one should ever have a bitch that aborts or has stillborn pups, the dead pups, membranes, placentas, etc. should be handled with gloves and the area disinfected thoroughly. The bitch that had the pups should be tested for Brucellosis as soon as possible to rule out the disease as the cause for the stillborn litter.
We used to believe ourselves that the test was unnecessary until 1992 when we had a little 'close encounter' with Brucellosis. We got a letter in 1991 from a guy in the Midwest who had a very well-bred bitch he wanted to breed to our Bandit dog; if we remember correctly he told us the bitch had just been bred but didn't take. When she came in heat again, he was not in a position to ship her out to be bred at that particular time, he wrote to us that he d bred to a different dog locally but he still wanted to breed her to Bandit her next heat. We didn't hear from him again for almost a year, when he wrote us a letter to let us know that the reason he never got back to us was that his bitch had missed again the second time he'd bred her, so he took her to a veterinarian and it turned out she had Brucellosis!
Had he shipped her to us to be bred to Bandit, who at the time was our main stud dog, we in turn probably would have infected most of our brood bitches before we discovered we had Brucellosis on the yard. From that point on, we have made a point of routinely having our own dogs tested, any new dogs we add to the yard, and any outside bitches that are bred to our studs -- even if they'd never been bred before. It's a bit of an inconvenience and to be honest, we've probably lost a few outside stud fees from people who either didn't want to go through the aggravation, or their vet discouraged them when they asked about the test and told them it was a waste of money, or they were insulted that we'd suspect their dog of having some disease.
We hope the information in this article helps promote a better understanding of this disease and shows that in the case of Canine Brucellosis, it s definitely a matter of 'better safe than sorry'.