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Brucella canis: what you need to know

Brucella canis is a bacterial disease which can enter the UK in imported dogs.

Cases are on the rise and vets are being warned to be on the look out.

'Trojan dogs'

Rehoming dogs imported from abroad is becoming more and more popular. Whilst in principle it seems like a nice idea, vets and government health officials are worried, due to the potential for these dogs to bring infectious disease into the UK.

Brucella canis is just one such pathogen that has given cause for concern. Others include:

  • Leishmania

  • Ehrlichia canis

  • Babesia canis

  • Dirofilaria immitis

  • Hepatazoon canis

  • Linguatula serrata

  • Thelazia callipaeda

  • Meocestoides sp.

Brucella canis is not endemic to the UK - we are Officially Brucella Free (OBF). B. canis is, however, common in dogs in many other countries across Eastern and Central Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa.

Since summer 2020, there have been huge rise in the number of UK cases of canine Brucellosis (more than 40 cases, compared to only 2 prior to 2020) in dogs imported from the EU and, in particular, Eastern Europe.

What is Babesia canis?

Babesia canis is a bacteria. It mainly affects the reproductive organs of male and female dogs.

How is Babesia canis spread?

B. canis is spread in the dog's bodily fluids, e.g., blood, saliva and urine. The greatest spread comes from contact with tissues and fluids associated with pregnancy and birth.

What symptoms does it cause?

Some dogs show no symptoms at all. Signs, if they do occur, include:

  • Reproductive failure (in males and females ) e.g. infertility, abortion

  • Vaginal discharge

  • Testicular or scrotal inflammation

  • Stillbirths, weak poorly puppies

  • Lameness, back or joint pain (due to discospondylitis)

  • Lethargy

  • Swollen lymph nodes

Can people catch Babesia canis?

B. canis is a zoonotic pathogen meaning it can pass from dogs to people, but human cases are thankfully rare. There have been no confirmed cases of people becoming infected in the UK following contact with an imported dog (true at the time of writing in May 2021).

Those most at risk are those exposed to the tissues and fluids associated with pregnancy and birth. Immunocompromised individuals need to be particularly cautious.

Can affected dogs be treated?

Treatment with antibiotics is usually not successful at getting rid of the infection, meaning an infected dog is considered positive (and therefore potentially infectious) for life.

What happens to dogs that have B. canis?

That decision is down to the owner and their vet; there is no legal stipulation for this. Euthanasia is the only way to completely remove the risk of the dog spreading the disease and so may be recommended in many instances.

If the dog is not euthanised, it is recommended that the dog is neutered to limit the risk of spread. The dog will need to be treated with antibiotics before and after the procedure in order to protect veterinary staff.

Even after neutering, physical contact with other dogs or sharing of environments should be avoided. Infected dogs should not be taken to areas visited by other dogs.

Is my dog at risk?

There is no evidence that B. canis is endemic in the UK (i.e. circulating within the dog population). Only those dogs that have been imported to the UK from a B. canis endemic country (or have bred with any such dog) are currently considered to be at risk.

This article is for general information only. If you have any questions or concerns about your dog's health, always consult your vet.

Want more? Check out the full Public Health England report.

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