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What is Brucellosis and Why You Should Test For It

by Kenny Gates


          Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that is well-known by food animal producers. It causes abortions, infertility and deceased milk yield in cattle. According to Dr. Allan Paul, small animal extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbane, "Brucellosis can infect cattle, sheep, goats, dogs and humans as well as pigs. However, cats seem to be somewhat resistant to the bacteria."

          The major route of Brucellosis transmission in dogs is through direct contact of an infected, aborted fetus, or uterine discharge. They may also become infected by eating contaminated meat, fetal membranes, aborted fetuses, or drinking contaminated, unpasteurized milk. The bacteria can also shed in dog feces and be cultured from lymph nodes of an infected animal, and possibly through airborne transmission in some cases.

          The bacteria enters the body through mucous membranes and spreads from there to lymph nodes and the spleen . It also spreads to the uterus, placenta and prostate gland as well as other internal organs at times.

          Signs of infection in dogs may include abortion, infertility, infected reproductive organs, arthritis, disc disease, fever, hind limb weakness, lethargy, and/or general lymph node swelling. Since these may be signs of many diseases, take your pet to your veterinarian if it shows any of them. He or she will need to draw a blood sample to determine if the problem is Brucellosis.

          In females dogs, infection leads to abortion or early death in infected puppies. Infected females may have no other clinical signs. In some cases, there may be deceased fertility rather than abortion. This may be due to reabsorption of fetuses early in their development.

          In male dogs, infection of the testicles can lead to infertility due to anti-sperm antibodies developed as the body attempts to fight off the bacterial infection. The testicles may atrophy after the initial period of swelling. Scrotal enlargement or infection of the skin over the scrotum may be seen.

          In both male and female dogs, there may be infection of the spinal disks (diskospondylitis) which can cause back pain and rear leg weakness or even paralysis. Eye inflammation may be seen in either sex.

          There is a kit available to veterinarians for testing in their office. It is usually best to retest any dogs found positive on this test, with other testing methods since there is a fairly high rate of false positives using the in- house test kit. Brucellosis is very difficult to treat successfully.

          A combination of minocycline and streptomycin is thought to be most effective but is expensive. Tetracycline can be substituted for the minocycline to reduce cost but also lowers the effectiveness of treatment.

          All infected animals should be considered to be life long carriers of the disease, even if treated. Since this is sexually transmitted, it is important for breeders to make sure all of the dogs in their kennel test negative for the bacteria. If they are not, they should not be bred. They may show no clinical signs but still transmit the bacteria in semen or vaginal fluid. Female dogs should be tested a few weeks before they come into heat and males should be tested twice a year. Any new animal brought into the kennel should be isolated until it tests negative twice. The second test should be done a month after the first one.

          If infection is suspected at any time, quaternary ammonia, Betadine Rx, and bleach can kill Brucella organisms in the kennel to limit spread of the disease. It is possible that Brucellosis caused by Brucella canis may be a zoonotic disease, meaning that people could potentially be infected by this organism. People often develop a persistent infection characterized by intermittent flu-like disease termed "undulant fever". It is something to think about when handling infected dogs.

          Wear gloves around any body fluids and be careful about contaminating yourself in any way. HAVE ALL DOGS, MALE AND FEMALE, tested for Brucellosis, in order to protect you dogs as well as yourself.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).