Canine Brucellosis: Disease on the Rise?

Part 2, How can Canine Brucellosis Affect Your Litter?


As discussed in Part One, canine brucellosis can be an insidious disease. Without testing you may have no idea that this bacteria is in your kennel until you are faced with an aborted litter. Knowing that brucellosis may be spread by infected urine as well as semen and uterine fluid means many more opportunities for our dogs to become infected.

Testing for brucellosis should be routine for all breeding stock. Testing should also be repeated prior to each breeding done naturally or with fresh chilled semen. Don’t risk the litter or your dogs for the price of the test.

The least expensive, rapid screening test is the RSAT. This stands for “rapid slide agglutination test” and is done with a small blood sample. This test is noted for being very sensitive and will pick up virtually any dogs with exposure to brucellosis. However, there are a fair number of false positives. Some reports claim false positive results as high as 50 to 60 percent of the time. If your bitch tests negative by a RSAT test, you can rest easy that she is negative. If she tests positive, you need to do additional testing before you panic.

There is a modified RSAT test called the ME-RSAT, which adds another reagent to make the test more specific. Still, this test is not definitive either. If your bitch or dog tests positive with this test, there continue to be options to verify whether or not she/he truly has brucellosis. The TAT or tube agglutination test looks for antibodies to brucellosis. With titers detected that are greater than 1:200, there is a good correlation with active infection and the growth of brucellosis on a culture.

The AGID or agar gel immunodiffusion test is often the next step along the way to verify if your dog truly has brucellosis. There are only a few labs that are qualified to run this test including Cornell, Tifton at Georgia and the University of Florida. This test requires specially trained personnel and extra equipment. There can still be false positives even here, however.

IFA (immunofluorescent antibody) and ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay) tests can be done, but these may occasionally miss a positive dog. All of these additional tests are done with blood samples.

The truly definitive diagnostic test that proves whether or not your dog has brucellosis is a blood culture. Multiple blood samples, ideally at least three, taken 24 hours apart are recommended for culturing. Cultures have also been grown with infected urine from male dogs. Cultures can be tricky to grow as brucellosis is a very fussy organism. Cultures also take time. Still, if your dog has shown up as positive on one or more of the screening tests, doing a culture can be worthwhile and might even be required by your state animal health department. 

Depending on your state, actions may be set in motion the minute a positive brucellosis result shows up. For example, in Georgia, any licensed facility will immediately be put into quarantine. All breeding dogs will need to be separated and screened with RSAT and then blood cultures. Alternatively, to minimize the time of quarantine, all suspected positive dogs can be euthanized.

Brucellosis is a reportable disease in all states for Brucella abortus, which is the cattle species of this disease. This is the species that is most likely to infect people. For many states reporting is simply required for “brucellosis” which means dog cases will also get reported. Quarantine may follow quickly -- for all the dogs in your kennel or household.

Treating a dog for brucellosis can be a long and expensive road. The best treatment combo was tetracycline and dihydrostreptomycin. Unfortunately dihydrostreptomycin is no longer available. Enrofloxacin and other antibiotics have been used. Antibiotic therapy must continue for least 30 days and often longer or be repeated. It is recommended that all positive dogs be spayed or neutered. As noted, even neutered males may still shed the organism due to prostate secretions. Euthanasia is routinely recommended for any proven positive dog.

Control of brucellosis relies on testing all breeding dogs and preventing exposure. Testing before breedings is a big part of the control. Prevent your dog from sniffing where unknown dogs have urinated. Any time or place a large number of dogs congregate there is potential for brucellosis spread. Think about your dog’s exposure potential when you are around unknown dogs.

Recently in New York there was an uproar over a puppy miller who gassed the dogs in his kennel to death. Righteous concern was raised over the method of euthanasia. Missed by many dog fanciers is why he killed all the dogs. His kennel was to be quarantined due to positive brucellosis tests.

How many puppies from that kennel were sold directly to buyers or via pet stores? Those puppies (eventually dogs) are in our neighborhoods, dog classes and parks. In 2007, Wisconsin health officials sent out an alert for all dog auctions regarding brucellosis. In 2008, a warning went out in Michigan to beware of small purebred and mixed-breed dogs due to brucellosis outbreaks in some commercial kennels. Those dogs that were already sold could be infected carriers. Where did all those puppies get placed? Where do they live?

Dedicated fanciers and breeders are often among the first to help with rescues. Are the dogs we take in tested for brucellosis first? We need to make that a first step in our rescue programs. That will of course take more money for breed rescue groups that are often cash strapped, but it would be worthwhile.

If every breeder donated even one dollar to brucellosis testing for each puppy bred, we could make a difference. We also need to support research like the two projects through the AKC Canine Health Foundation looking for more accurate and rapid brucellosis tests.


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singh1980   Missouri city, TX

2/6/2013 9:16:00 AM

We had three dogs who are all rescue (spayed and neutered already): Chloe Blevin and Simba. Chloe and Blevin were the same litter. Last year Chloe was diagnosed with brucellosis using screening and then AGID (culture) test. She has back pain which really made us test. It was the most devastating day of my life. With kids and planning to have more we had no option but to euthanize. Now Blevin has been diagnosed and I am just so angry. I wish that all people tested their dogs for this terrible disease. Loosing dogs one after another is a loss I cannot even explain. I just wanted to write this so that others can educate and inform other dogs owners/rescuers. We would have never known this disease/death sentence existed if Chloe never had her back pain ;(.

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