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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Canine brucellosis confirmed in six Michigan counties, and the possible culprit

Brucellosis is a venereal disease that you hear about typically with regard to breeding canines, but a Michigan State University veterinarian and researcher has stern news: Not so fast.

In light of an outbreak that has affected six counties and is suspected in another ten - Missaukee, Osceola, Wexford, Grand Traverse, Ottawa, and Macolm - Cheri Johnson, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM warns people not to discount the fact that the highly transmissible disease is spread simply through breeding. 
flickr photo courtesy of Acme Canine

Any dog owner will tell you that dogs frequently poke their noses in all sorts of places. They have a habit of eating gross stuff and licking things that they shouldn't. By and large, it's not an issue. 

Brucella, as the bacterial disease is referred to, is present in the bodily fluids of infected vertebrates - in higher concentrations in the semen, urogenital secretions, fetal membranes - but can also be found in urine and saliva.

There's no reason for the average pet owner to get all up-in-arms. It's a pretty safe bet that your typical pooch isn't going to be infected with the disease via casual contact.

In fact, humans rarely pick up the strain of brucella that canines get, B. canis, but you can transmit it to other dogs. Good hygiene is a must, of course, if you have contact with bodily fluids, regardless (remember the "happy birthday rule", though).

If you are considering breeding your dog, here's some food for thought: It's a good idea to have your dog tested, and insist that the owner of your dog's mate produce documentation of a clean bill of health. Since brucella can be hard to detect, and  it's so slow growing, blood tests that are typically done may not give the correct result and the disease could still be present - so proceed with caution.

Brucella is treated with antibiotics, but it's not a foolproof solution; the bacteria are hearty, and great at hiding out in the host cells.

Johnson notes another issue that can be a problem however, for a wider demographic of dog owners. "To avoid euthanasia, well-intended but misguided rescue organizations in Michigan have rescued dogs from infected kennels and adopted them out as pets to unsuspecting owners, whose veterinarians will be equally unsuspecting."

This may or may not be a contributing factor to the diseases' re-emergence, but it does highlight the need for education about transmissible disease for rescues and for those who prefer to adopt from them. This statement in no way demonizes rescues or the work that they do, but if they are conducting themselves in a questionable manner, then that poses a problem.


The bacteria is slow-growing and is masterful at hiding out in the urinary and reproductive tract. Infected pets typically look and seem healthy, and while that's the case, the disease can cause long-term damage to your pet, like inflammation in the spleen, liver, discs in the spine and kidneys. Inflammation in the joints can occur, as well.


Read more here.


Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and professional pet sitter and dog walker in the Ann Arbor area. Follow her daily adventures on Twitter or email her directly.


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