Brucella canis – What is that? And am I or my dogs at risk?

Authored by Dr. Mary Sebzda, DACT

Dr. Sebzda with 7 French Bulldog puppies in McDonald's french fry holdersCNN recently reported on a cases of Brucella canis (a bacterial disease) picked up in Marion County, Iowa by the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

While it’s very good to hear news outlets reporting on diseases that affect both our pets and potentially us, a few facts do need to be straightened out.


Brucella canis can be transmitted from dog to dog and dog to people.  This is very true. The bacteria can be shed in a variety of body fluids, such as feces, urine, saliva, discharges from the reproductive tract (semen, vagina discharge, afterbirth) but it can also be shed in milk.  It is normally transmitted from dog to dog either through breeding or oronasal contact (licking) of one of the body fluids noted.

Once acquired,  it can NOT be easily cleared with antibiotics because the bacteria likes to hide inside cells called macrophages and it will be intermittently present in blood and then chronically and randomly shed from the dog.

The bacteria does not kill its host and disease is typically limited to infections of reproductive organs, along with occasional infections of the eye or spine.

It does NOT cause a fever and is easily missed without blood testing.


It can or will ONLY affect breeding dogs and not dogs who have never been bred before or are neutered or spayed dogs.

In fact, although breeding dogs still remain the most likely population to encounter the disease, even spayed or neutered dogs living with or kenneled near infected dogs can pick this bacteria up and shed it because it is transmitted through body fluids.

ALL breeding dogs should be screened for Brucella canis every 6 months whether they are breeding or not.

Dogs acquired from rescues and shelters with uncertain reproductive histories should also be screened prior to adoption.


Brucella canis is a significant risk to human health.

Brucella canis has a relatively low risk for potential to spread to healthy humans.  Normal hygiene can help. Individuals who are immunocompromised (low immune system): the very young, elderly, sick or patients with weakened immune systems would be at higher risk. Like dogs, in people, it can never be completely cleared with antibiotics.

If you would like your dog tested for Brucella canis.  The staff at Newport Harbor Animal Hospital would be happy to help you. You can contact us at 949-631-1030.