Brucella canis: Understanding a Rare But Serious Canine Disease


by Barbara Csernai



Brucella canis, a lesser-known bacterial infection in dogs, poses a significant threat to both canine health and public health.

While less common than other canine diseases, this zoonotic pathogen is a cause for concern due to its potential to spread to humans. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of Brucella canis, its transmission, symptoms, diagnosis, and the importance of awareness and prevention.

Brucella Canis: The Basics

Brucella canis is a bacterium belonging to the Brucella genus. It primarily affects dogs, particularly those in close contact with infected animals, such as breeding dogs or those living in shelters. The bacterium is transmitted through various routes, including sexual contact, direct contact with infected fluids or tissues, and from an infected mother to her puppies during birth or through milk.

Transmission and Risk Factors

  1. Sexual Transmission: One of the primary modes of transmission is through sexual contact. Infected males can transmit the bacterium to uninfected females during mating.
  2. Direct Contact: Close contact with contaminated tissues, fluids, or aborted fetuses can lead to infection. This is a concern for breeders, veterinarians, and shelter workers who may come into contact with infected materials.
  3. Vertical Transmission: Brucella canis can be transmitted from an infected mother to her puppies, either during birth or through infected milk. This underscores the importance of screening and monitoring breeding dogs for the disease.

Symptoms and Clinical Presentation

Brucella canis infections can present in various ways, and the clinical signs may not always be apparent. Some of the common symptoms and clinical presentations include:

  • Reproductive Issues: Infertility, spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and weak or ill puppies are frequently observed in infected breeding dogs.
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes: Dogs may develop swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the groin area.
  • Fever: Elevated body temperature is a common sign.
  • Joint Pain: Infected dogs can develop joint inflammation, leading to lameness or difficulty moving.
  • Infections in Other Organs: In severe cases, the bacterium can spread to other organs, causing infections in the eyes, kidneys, liver, and more.

It’s crucial to note that some dogs may not display any symptoms, making the disease harder to detect without proper testing.

Diagnosis and Testing

Early detection and diagnosis of Brucella canis are crucial for effective management and prevention of transmission. Veterinary professionals may employ various diagnostic tests, including:

  1. Serology: Blood tests, such as the rapid slide agglutination test (RSAT) or indirect enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (I-ELISA), can detect antibodies against Brucella canis.
  2. Culture: Bacterial cultures can help confirm the presence of the bacterium in specific tissues or fluids.
  3. PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction): PCR tests can detect the DNA of Brucella canis in clinical samples, providing a rapid and accurate diagnosis.

Treatment and Management

Once diagnosed, managing Brucella canis can be challenging. While there is no definitive cure, treatment aims to suppress symptoms and reduce the risk of transmission. Common approaches include:

  • Antibiotics: A combination of antibiotics, such as doxycycline and enrofloxacin, may be prescribed to control bacterial growth.
  • Surgical Intervention: In some cases, removal of infected reproductive organs (ovariohysterectomy or castration) may be recommended.
  • Isolation: Infected dogs should be isolated from uninfected animals to prevent transmission.

The Zoonotic Risk

Beyond its impact on canine health, Brucella canis poses a zoonotic risk, meaning it can be transmitted from infected dogs to humans. While human infections are relatively rare, they can be severe and cause flu-like symptoms, joint pain, and reproductive issues. Handling infected animals and contaminated materials without proper precautions increases the risk of transmission to humans.

Prevention and Awareness

Preventing Brucella canis requires a multi-faceted approach:

  1. Screening: Regular screening of breeding dogs and those at risk can help identify infected animals early.
  2. Isolation: Infected dogs should be isolated from other dogs and handled with appropriate precautions.
  3. Hygiene: Practicing good hygiene, including frequent handwashing, is essential when handling dogs, especially those with reproductive issues.
  4. Education: Raising awareness among breeders, veterinarians, and shelter workers about the risks and preventive measures is crucial.


Brucella canis may not be as well-known as some other canine diseases, but its potential impact on both dog and human health underscores the importance of vigilance, early detection, and responsible pet ownership. By staying informed, practicing proper hygiene, and working closely with veterinarians, we can mitigate the risks associated with this bacterial infection and ensure the well-being of our canine companions while protecting public health.

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