Tuberculosis (TB) is an incredibly important disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It’s a huge problem internationally, and the problem is getting worse in many areas. Another cause of "tubercular" (or tuberculosis-like) disease is Mycobacterium bovis, a related microorganism whose main natural reservoir is cattle.
Mycobacterium bovis is cause of bovine TB. It can also infect people (usually through drinking or eating unpasteurized dairy products) and pets. Pets can be exposed by a few different routes, including eating contaminated dairy products, eating infected animals (e.g. snacking on carcasses of wildlife like deer that have died of the disease), and perhaps from direct exposure to wildlife carrying the organism. Mycobacterium bovis is an important problem in some areas, typically because of its presence in a wildlife reservoir like deer or the European badger (a major problem in the UK).
Mycobacterium bovis can cause serious disease in pets. It often causes non-specific signs that makes it hard to diagnose until disease is very advanced (and unfortunately likely beyond the point of successful treatment). Some groups recommend prompt euthanasia of infected pets without considering treatment because of the potential for infection of people. The risk of pet-human transmission is completely unclear, but it’s such an important disease that some people think any risk is unnecessary and unjustifiable. So, the key is avoiding infection in the first place (for both people and pets). This is of particular concern in regions where M. bovis is present in wildlife and cattle. In areas where it is not known to be present, there should be little to worry about.
Here are some simple steps that can help you reduce the risk of your pet becoming exposed to M. bovis:
- Keep cats indoors.
- Don’t allow dogs to roam free outdoors.
- Don’t allow animals to have access to unpasteurized dairy products or dead animals.
Pretty basic, isn’t it?