A recent report from the Netherlands in Emerging Infectious Diseases (van Dijk et al 2018) describes a new twist on raw feeding concerns, Brucella suis infection.  Here’s the short version of the story:

A dog in the Netherlands developed fever, ascites (fluid free in the abdomen) and inflammation of the testicles.  After failing to respond to antibiotics, it was taken to surgery to be neutered.  In the process, culture samples were collected from the epididymis (tissue adjacent to the testicle) and from the abdominal fluid. Brucella suis was identified in both samples, which presumably caused a bit stir in the lab and the clinic since this bacterium is a rarely identified, can also infect people and is federally notifiable in the Netherlands (i.e. the government has to be contacted when it’s found). Ultimately, the dog was euthanized after failing to respond to further treatment.

Because this is a notifiable disease, there was an investigation. The dog did not have any of the typical exposures that would increase the risk of Brucella infection, such as contact with wildlife or livestock, breeding, or travel to brucellosis-endemic areas.  The dog’s raw, rabbit-based diet that was imported from Argentina therefore became the leading suspected source. Brucella suis was ultimately identified in samples from a 30,000 kg batch of raw rabbit imported from Argentina, a country where B. suis is present.

It’s a single case report so we can’t get too worked up about it, but it’s noteworthy for a couple reasons:

  • Reason 1 is the disease – brucellosis is a nasty. It can be hard to treat, is potentially zoonotic, and sometimes results in public health-mandated euthanasia of the dog.
  • Reason 2 is the importation aspect. The dog wasn’t imported but the bacterium was, via food. We’re trying to increase awareness of the need to query travel and importation history in pets, as it can significantly impact disease risks. Querying diet origins is even tougher.  While most people know where their dog has been in the past few weeks, they may not know much about where their dog’s diet has been. With commercial processed food, it’s not a big deal, but with higher-risk food like raw meat, importing food can be similar to the dog visiting the country of origin, from a disease standpoint. With raw meat, knowing where the meat came from and the disease risks in those areas may be important, but often not easy to find out.

The incidence of disease in dogs and cats associated with raw meat feeding isn’t clear, and is probably low. Nevertheless, I recommend avoiding raw meat feeding, especially in  high risk households (e.g. with elderly individuals, kids less than 5 years of age, pregnant women or immunocompromised individuals). However, if raw meat is to be fed, some basic precautions can used to help reduce the risks.  For details, see the raw meat infosheet on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page.