Brucellosis causes problems and stresses for kennels and veterinarians across the country – and with good reason. While you can remove the bacteria from the bloodstream with antibiotics, making the dog test negative for brucellosis for 90 days, this will not clear the bacteria from the cells. There are a number of misconceptions about how brucellosis is spread, who can get it and how you should respond to it, and dispelling these myths will help protect your kennel and allow you to better care for your animals.
Myth #1: Brucellosis is Spread Through the Air
Brucellosis is actually spread through the bodily secretions of infected animals. Aborted materials and vaginal discharge contain the highest concentration of the bacteria, but it can also be transmitted through fecal, nasal and ocular discharge as well as through semen. A brucellosis positive female who fails to get pregnant will shed the bacteria for six weeks afterwards, and the same is true for a brucellosis positive mom who aborts. Mutual grooming among infected dogs is another key way that the disease is transmitted; often, when one female in a shared kennel tests positive, her run-mates will as well because they groom one another.
Myth #2: Brucellosis Positive Dog Moms Can’t Give Birth to Live Babies
Brucellosis-positive dogs may struggle to get pregnant or abort early, but they can also transmit the disease to their babies. Live births are most common in females who have been treated with antibiotics in the past 90 days. These puppies may be born mummified, die soon after birth or grow to adulthood, and those survivors run a high risk for contracting brucellosis. Some puppies may develop brucellosis in utero, but others contract it during birth, from milk or from vaginal discharge in the whelping area. If you suspect a reproductive issue in your litter, test for brucellosis! It shares symptoms with a number of other reproductive diseases, and ruling brucellosis out first will prevent more stress or problems down the line.
Myth #3: One Negative Test Result for Brucellosis is Enough to Prevent Brucellosis Introduction
Because antibiotics can make a test negative when the dog is actually positive, testing multiple times is vital to prevent brucellosis introduction. Testing for brucellosis is especially important when bringing in new puppies or dogs. You should test them when they come in, and if that test comes back negative, place the dog in isolation for 60 days. If they test negative for brucellosis again after 60 days, you can feel comfortable mixing the new dog or puppy with your other animals.
If you’ve completed your testing, you should still protect your kennel from brucellosis by instituting biosecurity practices. Kennel visitors may bring the disease in with them, especially if they’ve visited multiple kennels as they look at puppies. Disposable shoe covers and disinfecting mats help prevent transmission, but the only sure way to protect your animals is limiting visitors, especially to the whelping area. Isolating the visiting area from the rest of your kennel, along with using shoe covers and disinfecting mats, will help protect your dogs. You can’t assume that your negative dogs are still negative if they’ve been around non-biosecure areas or people.
Yearly testing on all of your males as well as 10 percent of your females will provide assurance that you don’t have a problem. Any dog that leaves your kennel for any reason beyond a veterinary procedure should be tested, isolated and tested again before they’re reintroduced to your other dogs. Work with your veterinarian to decide on a testing schedule that’s best for you.
Myth #4: You Can Treat or Cure Brucellosis in Dogs
There is no cure for brucellosis. Without proper precautions, it spreads easily among dogs and can wipe out entire kennels. While antibiotics can cause negative test results for up to 90 days, they do not cure or treat the disease. An infected dog must be removed from the breeding program and from contact with other dogs. Brucellosis symptoms can be managed with intermittent antibiotics, but because of its high communicability, euthanasia is recommended.
This disease can cause serious human health problems as well. Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can spread from dogs to humans. Young children, pregnant women and the immunocompromised are at the greatest risk of contracting the disease, and while antibiotic treatments work on humans, the condition may take weeks to months to resolve.
Myth #5: You Need to be Afraid of Brucellosis
While brucellosis can cause huge problems for breeding dogs, following a few simple steps can help keep your kennel secure and your visitors and family safe. Common disinfectants such as Chlorhexidine Solution or Rescue Disinfectant easily kill brucellosis, so a strict and thorough cleaning regime is one of your best bets in preventing the disease. Proper disposal of all aborted materials and testing of suspected reproductive problems will also help support your negative status. Testing when a dog first comes in, isolating and then testing again provides protection when you bring in new dogs, and implementing a biosecurity procedure with clear, specific rules for visitors will help keep your kennel clean. With proper procedures in place, you can protect your kennel from brucellosis.
If you have more questions on canine brucellosis, call us at 800.786.4751.
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Written by: Donald Bramlage, DVM
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.