ProMed recently reported about an outbreak of canine brucellosis at a "puppy farm" in Ireland. Farm is definitely the appropriate word in this case, since this operation had about 700 breeding females. The picture on the right is not from this farm, but I imagine it’s a similar operation. Beyond the concerns about humane management of dogs under these conditions, such a large operation creates perfect conditions for various infectious diseases.

"The farm’s owner has refused to sign an undertaking not to move the dogs off-site before an official inspection can take place to investigate the extent of the [brucellosis outbreak]."

Lack of cooperation makes any disease investigation much more difficult. It’s not surprising this person doesn’t want to cooperate, given the type of operation he’s running.

"Someone from the farm told the Irish Times that the 2 animal welfare agencies were involved in acts of "intimidation" against the establishment."

I suspect that "intimidation" in this case means the agencies were doing their job, because I can’t see how there wouldn’t be significant welfare problems at a farm of this type and size.

"’We got accurate information on Friday [2 May 2009] that this man was intending moving and selling these dogs and we acted on it,’ according to Jimmy Cahill, chief executive of the DSPCA [Dublin SPCA]. ‘The guards  were very helpful but the owners refused to let us see the dogs or any of the carcasses.’ "

The reference to "carcasses" implies that deaths have occurred. Death from B. canis in dogs is very rare but it is possible. However, a poorly managed operation with hundreds of dogs is bound to have multiple issues that could cause deaths.

Canine brucellosis is caused by the bacterium Brucella canis. This main problem with this bacterium in dogs is reproductive disease, including abortion and infertility (in both males and females). Discospondylitis (inflammation of the discs between vertebrae in the back) can also develop.

Brucella canis is a zoonotic organism. Human infections are rarely reported but it is possible that some go undiagnosed. Brucella canis can be transmitted from dogs to people through contact with body fluids from infected dogs, including urine and vaginal fluids.  The risk of transmission is likely highest when handling animals during breeding or birthing. While the bacterium can be shed in nasal secretions and saliva, levels are low in these fluids and the risks are probably correspondingly low.

One problem with preventing B.canis transmission is that infected dogs do not necessarily show any signs of disease. In people, B. canis infection can cause flu-like disease, loss of appetite, weakness, joint and back pain, vomiting and diarrhea and various other symptoms.

To control the outbreak on this "farm," quarantine and repeated testing of all dogs is needed, and positive animals must be removed from breeding. Given the information provided above, it’s pretty unlikely this will happen voluntarily. I suspect this person would likely either just get rid of these dogs and get more poor-quality breeding animals, or try to continue breeding these dogs and hope people get sick of looking into his operation.