To most of us who breed dogs we care deeply that we do it as responsibly as possible. We choose each dog we breed carefully and breed only dogs with the conformation we like, we choose the best temperament and above all we choose only the healthiest dogs. We carefully screen for congenital conditions of the hips and eyes and we would never breed a dog with any known genetic condition. Both the female and the stud are examined by a veterinarian prior to breeding to ensure the dogs we’ve chosen are completely healthy.
But what about STD’s? Is a stud who has bred to a number of females risky to our breeding program?
The answer is yes! Dogs can indeed contract sexually transmitted diseases which can then be spread and cause widespread sterility and aborted litters.
Now, there are a few diseases that can be transmitted through sexual contact, including Herpesvirus, such as in humans but what I am talking about today is the gram negative bacteria, Brucellosis, specifically B. Canis.
Before I cause a widespread panic, let me note that right now B. Canis is still relatively rare in the United States. It is much more of an issue in countries with less sophisticated protocol regarding animal health. Areas currently listed as high risk are the Mediterranean Basin (Portugal, Spain, Southern France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, North Africa), South and Central America, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.
Cases in the United States, however, are on the rise and in order to keep it rare, breeders need to be informed about the disease and how we can prevent it.
Why is Brucellosis dangerous?
Brucellosis is zoonotic! This means, although rare, it can be transmitted from animals to humans.
An acute case of Brucellosis may present as a mild flu-like illness or there may be no clinical signs whatsoever. A stud dog may be a carrier of Brucellosis for months or years without any symptoms. Brucellosis is very hardy and can survive for several months in water, aborted fetuses, feces, equipment and clothing. Brucella species can withstand drying and can survive in dust and soil. Survival is longer when the temperature is low, particularly when it is below freezing.
B. canis occurs in the fetus, placenta, fetal fluids and vaginal discharge after an abortion or stillbirth. This organism can be found in vaginal discharges for 4 to 6 weeks after an abortion. It is also shed in normal vaginal secretions, particularly during estrus, as well as in milk. High concentrations of B. canis are found in semen for up to two months after infection, and intermittent shedding of smaller quantities can occur for years. B. canis is also found in urine, and low concentrations of bacteria may be excreted in saliva, nasal and ocular (eye) secretions, and feces.
This organism primarily enters the body by ingestion and through the genital, oronasal and conjunctival mucosa, but transmission through broken skin may also be possible.
Infected females will almost always abort their litter somewhere between 45 and 59 days. Brucellosis results in sterility of both females and stud dogs.
Treatment of B. Canis is very difficult. Many veterinarians will recommend euthanasia of infected dogs. An alternative is treatment, which is often long-term and costly, and an infected dog will always need to be spayed or neutered.
Treatment includes intramuscular and oral antibiotics for a month. Generally, two antibiotics are needed to eradicate the disease hidden in tissues.
If one dog tests positive in a kennel environment, it is highly likely that other dogs have been exposed through casual contact.
As I said, cases of B. Canis at this point are still rare. With routine testing of breeding stock it is up to us, as responsible breeders, to keep it that way.
Recent documented cases of B. Canis in the US include this report from 2008:
The Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) received confirmation of canine brucellosis (CB) in five Michigan breeding kennels that sold small, mixed breed, and pure bred dogs in Michigan. The Missaukee, Osceola, Wexford, and Van Buren county kennels have been quarantined and MDA is in the process of notifying purchasers.
Currently, cases in the US are most common in the states of Virginia, California, Texas and Florida. Stud dogs who travel are the most at risk for infection and the spread to other locations.
The effects of B. Canis could be devastating to our breeding programs but at this point an ounce of prevention would easily be worth 10 pounds of cure.
Prevention is simple!
During routine pre-breeding examinations a simple blood test should be part of the procedure. Of course, your vet will know best and asking them about B. Canis and the risks is always a good idea.
All animals should be tested before entry into a breeding program.
Brood bitches should be tested one month prior to breeding and re-tested prior to each subsequent breeding.
Studs should be routinely tested every 6-12 months depending on how active they are at stud.
Artificial Insemination (AI) can help prevent the spread from the female to the stud.