This is another one of those “I can’t say much specific because of privacy laws but there’s so much social media paranoia that I have to say something.”

Is there concern about Brucella canis in Ontario?

  • Yes. We have been concerned about this bacterium for a while, particularly in imported dogs and commercial breeders (including ‘puppy mills’). I can’t comment on the current situation more than to say we are investigating and I’m concerned but far from panicked.
  • However, it’s probably not new. A recent study from Michigan reported a low (0.4%) infection rates in pet dogs but much higher rates in commercial operations (Johnson et al 2018) and a study of dogs is Mississippi shelters found Brucella rates ranging from 8-9% (Hubbard et al 2018). We know very little about Brucella canis in Canada, but it’s been here for a while.

Why is there a concern?

  • This bacterium can cause disease in dogs and people.  In dogs, most of the problems are reproductive, with abortions, stillbirths and reproductive failure. However, a variety of other consequences can occur.
  • Human infections seem to be rare but they may be underdiagnosed, as signs can be vague and brucellosis might not be considered.

Is Brucella in dogs treatable?

  •  We can use antibiotics but it’s difficult to get rid of the bacterium completely. It’s hard to be confident that the bacterium is actually gone. We end up having to periodically re-test dogs to see if there’s sign of it coming back. So, we can rarely say ‘yes, it’s definitely gone.”

Do all infected dogs need to be euthanized?

  • In kennels, euthanasia is most often performed because of the risks of continuing to produce infected puppies and the potential for animals to keep infecting each other. Spaying or neutering is also an important part of treatment (since the bacterium likes to live in reproductive tissues), and that doesn’t work for a breeding dog.
  • For pet dogs, that’s a case-by-case situation, depending on the disease, the household situation, risk averse, and sometime, based on Public Health requirements.

What can I do?

  • If you are getting a puppy, make sure you know the source. Puppies from large commercial breeders, puppy mills or poorly managed operations are highest risk because of how the dogs are sourced, managed and tested (or, specifically, not tested).
  • If you have a dog from an unknown source, you could consider testing. It’s hard to say that Brucella testing is needed for every pet dog, but it is reasonable to consider if the dog might have come from a higher risk area (Asia, Mexico, southern US) or breeder.

Is testing straightforward?

  • No. It’s a multistep procedure. Usually, we start with a screening test. If that test is positive, we follow up with a more specific test that is less likely to have false positive results. Then, we ideally follow up with a final test such as trying to culture the bacterium or detect its DNA. If the first test is negative, that’s great. If the dog might have been recently exposed, we’d ideally re-test in a couple months because it can take time for a dog to test positive after exposure.

Can my dog pick up Brucella in the park?

  • Odds of this are exceptionally low. They’re probably basically zero, but in the infectious disease world, we’re rarely brave enough to say ‘never’. Brucella canis is transmitted most often in kennel situations, through breeding and through infection of pups before birth. Transmission can occur in other dog contact situations (e.g. a dog living with an infected dog) but that likely requires longterm contact. Transient, casual contact poses little risk.

What about my dog?

  • Merlin came from a breeder that we know well. He’s exceptionally low risk to have come to us with Brucella. He’s neutered, reducing the risk further. He has regular casual contact with dogs at Heather’s workplace but I’m not worried about that type of contact. I don’t plan on testing him or losing any sleep over his Brucella status. If I had obtained him recently from a puppy mill in Ontario, from out of the country or from unknown sources, I’d consider testing.

Here are a couple good Resources:

Center for Food Security and Public Health fact sheet

American Kennel Club fact sheet