Brucellosis in Dogs

Brucellosis in Dogs

Brucellosis in dogs is considered to be a venereal disease in dogs, although in addition to sexual contact it can also be contracted by inhaling or swallowing the bacteria. Brucellosis is usually only a concern in dogs that are being used for breeding purposes, although dogs that are kept primarily as pets can also become infected and need to be treated, as this is a disease that can be passed on to humans. In order to help prevent the disease from spreading, it’s imperative that any dog that’s used for breeding first be tested for brucellosis. In addition to that, it’s just as important that any dog you plan to use for breeding is also tested and that, if you’re not the owner of the dog, you see documentation to verify that they’ve been tested and do not have the bacteria.

Types of Brucellosis in Dogs

There are six different types of brucella and while dogs usually become infected by brucella canis, or canine brucella, they can also obtain it from other pigs. Brucella Suis is the name of that particular condition and can be contracted by dogs if they drink milk from the pig that’s been contaminated, or if they eat the membranes left over from a recent birth. Dogs can also become infected with brucella abortus, which comes from cattle; and brucella melitensis, which is contracted through goats.

There are two other types of brucellosis: brucella ovis, which affects rams; and brucella neotomae, which comes from desert mice. Neither of these types of brucellosis can be contracted by dogs.

The effects of brucella canis, the type found in dogs, can be passed onto humans. While it’s important that these cases be reported to the health department, the effects of brucella canis in humans are much less serious.

How Dogs Become Infected

While dogs usually contract brucellosis through sexual contact, there are other ways this disease can be contracted. One of the most common ways, other than through intercourse, is by sniffing, chewing, and eating things that they should not. Sniffing urine that’s been contaminated by the disease, eating or licking urine that’s been contaminated, or eating and/or licking fetal membranes that are contaminated can also cause the infection to be passed to the dog.

In addition to the infection being passed to the dog through the nose or mouth, the infection can also enter through the eyes so it’s important to keep your dog away from any of these substances and, if they’re on your property, to remove them immediately.

If you’re keeping a dog for breeding purposes, it’s important to note that when a female dog is infected with brucellosis and aborts a pregnancy due to that, they can secrete fluids infected with the bacteria for up to six weeks. It’s also important to know that the bacteria can also survive for months in an exterior environment, especially if that environment is moist, dark, and damp.

Signs of Infection

Once the brucellosis bacteria enters the bloodstream, it will take up to three weeks in order to show up in blood tests. Once it’s active, it will find its way to the reproductive and urinary tract and continue to remain in the bloodstream, and even multiply, from there. Because of this, dogs that have been infected will often have enlarged lymph nodes, or an inflamed spleen or liver. While there are typically no symptoms when the dog is first infected, over time it can lead to an inflammation of discs in the spine, deep inflammation of the eye, protein loss due to kidney inflammation, and arthritis that affects multiple joints.

The biggest sign of infection is in female dogs, as they will usually abort a pregnancy late in their term, about two weeks before their expected due date. In these cases it will be evident that the pup actually died some time before birth. Other times the pup can be lost in pregnancy much earlier on, which indicates that the female dog carrying the pup may be infertile. If a puppy born from an infected mother is alive when they’re born, they will most likely be infected with the bacteria.

Testing for Brucellosis in Dogs

Sometimes a culture can be taken from a deceased puppy, or from the blood of a dog that’s believed to have been infected. However, it can be difficult to identify the bacteria in this way. Instead, dogs typically need to be given other tests, of which there are five different types.

  • The RSAT (Rapid Slide Agglutination Test). This test doesn’t identify dogs that are positive for brucellosis, but rather negative for the disease. However, these tests are known for giving 60 per cent false positives so for those that come back positive, it’s important to do further testing. This test can often be done in a veterinarian’s office while you wait, meaning you can get results right away.
  • The IFA (Immunofluorescent Antibody). This is a test very similar to the RSAT, especially in the way that positive results require further testing. However, you won’t be able to wait for the results in the vet’s office, as they often have to be sent to a lab for analysis.
  • The AGID (Agar Gel Immunodiffusion). This is a test that’s done once the above first two tests have been performed and further testing is required. This is the most specific test in that it has the most trustworthy positive value. This is another test that’s only done when further testing is required, and is used to detect the protein of the bacteria. It’s considered that this test is the most accurate of all when trying to diagnose brucellosis.
  • TAT (Tube Agglutination Test). This test looks for the presence of brucella canis antibodies, which will result in a positive test result. Sometimes, if these antibodies are low, they will not appear on the test but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the bacteria is not present.

It’s very important to know that, even if the dog is not being used for breeding, if a dog is traveling to Australia, they need to have a TAT test done beforehand and you must have verification that this test was done. If a dog is traveling to New Zealand, the government requires that an AGID test be done and that documentation is also present to verify that the test has been done.

Treatment for Brucellosis in Dogs

While brucellosis is a treatable condition, it’s important that any dog being used for breeding is removed from the program and separated from all other dogs as soon as brucellosis is suspected. This will help prevent it from spreading to other dogs. After they have been removed from the program and areas where other dogs are, there are antibiotics that can be used to help your dog.

Traditional treatment options are:

  • Doxycycline and an aminoglycoside. This treatment of antibiotics requires injections administered every day for four weeks. These antibiotics can have negative effects on the kidneys so it’s not recommended for dogs to stay on the treatment longer than four weeks, and they should be monitored throughout the course of treatment.
  • Tetracycline and streptomycin. These are two different antibiotics and while they’re used together in a treatment program, they are administered separately. Tetracycline is given twice daily for a month, while the streptomycin is given only during the first and last week through an injection. This is one of the most effective treatments for brucellosis however, streptomycin can be very difficult for vets to obtain, as it’s really only used to treat this particular condition.


Because treatment for brucellosis can be somewhat invasive and expensive, not to mention the damage it can do to other animals, it’s important that owners take all the necessary steps for prevention that they can. Dogs that are just being introduced to a new kennel should be separated from the other dogs for at least one month before incorporated into the group, and they should also have multiple brucella tests taken during that time, preferably two to three months apart. Because the disease can take 8 to 12 weeks from the time of infection to see positive results, waiting this long can help ensure there is no infection present. If any infection is found in the kennel, and the dog has had interaction with the other dogs, it’s important to get all the dogs in the kennel tested.

Brucellosis in dogs can be a very serious disease and, if left untreated, can do a lot of damage and harm to other animals. It’s important to have any dog tested at the first sign of infection, and to always keep a keen eye out for symptoms of this condition. This is the only way to start treatment as soon as possible and to keep your dog at their healthiest and happiest.

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