Brucella canis: with the first UK dog-to-human recorded case should I be testing my imported dog?
Since 2020, following the lockdown and the rise in imported dogs into the UK, there has been a marked increase in cases of Brucella canis - a dangerous zoonotic disease that in some cases can be passed to humans from dogs.
Earlier this year, we had the first ever reported UK human case that was contracted from an imported dog; there are calls for all dogs imported into the UK to be screened for Brucella canis and the government is looking into this but currently, it is not a travel requirement.
In the first recorded case in the UK, the patient was hospitalised for several weeks and 4 of the family's dogs had to be euthanised, including the infected imported dog.
So what is Brucella canis?
Brucella canis (B.canis) is a highly contagious bacterial infection. Sadly, despite many studies, there is no guaranteed cure for the B.canis in dogs as antibiotics cannot effectively penetrate the cell to eradicate the bacteria.
What does it do to dogs?
In dogs, B.canis can be subclinical and, although the dog may appear normal, it can quietly cause fertility issues. In addition, the bacteria tend to spread to other tissues, such as the eyes, spinal discs, joints, liver, spleen and lymph nodes, causing damage and a variety of signs such as fatigue, fever, inappetence, swellings and pain.
What does it do to humans?
Symptoms vary, from mild, nonspecific or flu-like symptoms to infertility or serious liver, spleen, cardiac or neurological problems. Immuno-compromised people are most at risk, as well as children and pregnant women.
How is it spread?
It is normally associated with breeding as a sexually transmitted disease from dog to dog. The infected dog will also shed B.canis in bodily fluids, such as urine, blood, and saliva, infecting the environment around them. Humans most at risk include those in prolonged close contact, those who help with mating and whelping, those handling samples of bodily fluid and veterinary teams, especially during surgical procedures.
What should I do?
The test for B.canis is a simple blood test that can be taken in a normal veterinary consultation.
If you choose to import a dog from abroad we would strongly recommend that you insist that the dog is tested for Brucella canis; ideally, this should be done before the dog is imported and the microchip details should be linked with the sample. Unfortunately, although many charities are now testing routinely, limited funds can mean that this is not the case across all rescues.
We have introduced the policy that all dogs (that have been imported to the UK from this year 2022 and onwards) that we see at Roundwoods are tested for Brucella canis prior to having surgery or being admitted for treatment at the surgery. We have kept the costs of this blood test to an absolute minimum and use 2 different tests to confirm that the dog is positive or negative.
If your dog isn’t tested, we would not be able to perform surgery, elective or dental procedures and there would be additional charges for hospital admission due to the additional PPE and isolation requirements to protect our staff, patients and facilities.
External laboratories and veterinary referral centres may refuse to accept a patient or process a sample from an imported dog that has not been tested for B.canis.
What if my dog is positive?
There have been reports of false positives, which is why we carry out 2 tests to confirm that the dog is positive.
Sadly, there is no guaranteed treatment for dogs. Any positive cases must be reported, and normally the dog will need to be euthanised as they are an extremely high risk to other dogs and humans. Whilst this feels extreme, the alternative of isolation, using combinations of reserved antibiotics, and repeated testing not only impacts greatly a dog's quality of life: it also means that we are using antibiotics that should be preserved for human cases. Whilst euthanasia is extremely sad, it can be carried out without pain or suffering for the dog.
Fortunately, at the moment, humans do seem to respond better to long-term therapy and antibiotics when treated for B.canis, although there can still be long-lasting implications.