Stray2Me Rescue has been screening all dogs traveling to the UK for Brucella canis (B. canis) since early 2021 when we first became aware of it as an emerging concern. We review our testing protocols regularly and keep up-to-date with any changes to current legislation regarding the importation of foreign rescue animals, including testing requirements. Currently DEFRA advise pre-import testing for B. canis, but it is not mandatory. Of course, this advice is subject to change.
Recently, there has been some concern expressed on various social media platforms because B. canis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be passed from dog to human. There is very little reliable research available at present to suggest how easily B. canis passes from dogs to dogs and from dogs to humans. If you have adopted from us, or are considering adopting from us, and you have any concerns at all about B. canis, and the possible impact, please read the information below. Our aim is to provide you with the facts as we understand them in a balanced way, to enable you to make an informed decision. The Trustees are also happy to discuss with you any concerns you may have.
Brucella canis (B. canis) is a bacterium which can infect both dogs and humans and can be passed by dogs to humans. There is no canine vaccine and no cure for dogs and, while not currently recommended by APHA (2021a), dogs can be treated but it is a lengthy, potentially costly route of disease management and there are no guarantees that the infection can be fully gone. According to the WHO (2020) and the NHS (2020), while not specific to B. canis, treatment of human brucellosis infections is done using a long course of antibiotics. The main consequence for dogs is reproductive failure, while an infected human may suffer from fever, chills, malaise, enlargement of the lymph nodes and enlargement of the spleen. (Hensel, Negron & Arenas-Gamboa, 2018).
As part of our due diligence as a responsible animal rescue, we ask that all Romanian rescues we find homes for in the UK are tested for a variety of endemic and high-risk diseases, including B. canis prior to traveling.The test for B. canis run as standard by the vets in Romania is a rapid antibody test, which has a high sensitivity and specificity (over 90%). Sensitivity is the ability of the test to correctly identify a patient WITH the disease and specificity is the ability of the test to correctly identify a patient WITHOUT the disease (Cochrane UK, 2019).
For added peace of mind the whole procedure is filmed, including the test result, and the results are taken into account, together with a clinical examination of the rescue and with its known clinical history, and noted in the rescue’s passport before travel. We send you the video of the test, which we encourage you to share with your vet.
Several vets in the UK have started asking that foreign rescue dogs are tested for B. canis prior to registering them or being treated at their practice, and we have had reports of this being applied to emergency veterinary cases as well. We also understand from some of our adopters that they have been advised by vet practices of the fact that, should a dog test positive for B.canis, they will be refused treatment and they will be advised to euthanise the dog. Euthanasia is NOT MANDATORY, nor is it mandatory to have the test. However, your vet may refuse to treat your dog unless you do agree to test. You are perfectly at liberty to change to a different vet who may have a different approach.
If you decide to have the test and your dog tests positive, it is our understanding from the APHA Summary Information Sheet on Brucella canis that you can make a choice to have the dog treated, rather than euthanised (APHA, 2021b). Therefore, in absence of clear mandatory evidence of euthanasia being enforced by UK authorities, you cannot be forced to have your dog euthanised should you not wish to do so. While your vet may advise that euthanasia is the most effective way of stopping any potential future transmission of infection by the positive dog, they should also discuss an alternative option of disease management with you.
If you choose to treat the positive dog, B canis may be managed using antibiotics as part of a treatment protocol, but it cannot be fully cured, and relapses are likely to occur. B. canis is also a notifiable disease and DEFRA will be informed by your vet in case of a positive test result. You will be expected to follow a series of life-long control measures, including repeat testing, avoiding contact with other dogs and humans and practicing good hygiene (APHA, 2021b).
The most prevalent way of B canis spreading between dogs is through reproduction or sexual activity; a far less common way of the disease passing from an infected dog to an uninfected dog is through urine, saliva or blood. Although this risk is small, it is nonetheless a risk and therefore the advice is to isolate the dog if euthanasia is not chosen.
Since reproduction or sexual activity is the highest risk category, Stray2Me Rescue aim to sterilise all dogs prior to travel, unless it is contrary to veterinary advice due to health or age.
If you are an existing adopter and you have any concerns, please contact us through your Messenger chats or WhatsApp group and we will be happy to advise you on your rights and responsibilities.
If you are looking to adopt a Romanian Rescue, we would strongly advise that you speak to your vet or several vets in your local area about your intention, and discuss B. canis testing with them before applying to, or before agreeing to adopt a Romanian Rescue. Please do inform them about the tests that we are running, and whether they consider that acceptable in order to register the rescue at their practice, should the adoption process be successful. We can also provide you with a list of vets in your area who are happy to accept and treat rescues from Romania.
At the time of writing this statement, there is no mandatory legal testing requirement for B.canis set for dogs entering the UK (either prior to or post import). However, as part of our due diligence as a responsible animal rescue, and in line with the advice given by APHA (2021a) on testing foreign rescue dogs, we ask that all Romanian rescues we find homes for in the UK are tested for a variety of endemic and high-risk diseases, including B. canis.
The test run as standard by the vets in Romania is a rapid antibody test, or, more scientifically, achromatographic immunoassay for the qualitative detection of antibodies against canine brucellosis in canine serum, plasma or whole blood. To run this test, vets usually draw blood from the animal and then place a few drops on the test cassette. The results are visible within a matter of minutes, similar to a COVID rapid test – one control line and no test line is indicative of a negative result, and two lines (one control and one test line) is indicative of a positive result.
We have chosen this form of testing as it is fast and widely available to most Romanian vets. It has a high sensitivity and specificity (eg. The Bionote rapid C.Brucella test has a sensitivity and specificity of over 90% according to the manufacturer’s brochure and instructions of use, available at: https://www.bionote.co.kr/en/product/rapid/view.html?idx=62&srh_cate=1&curpage=5&search_txt=) and the results are taken into account together with a clinical examination of the rescue and with its known clinical history. Running serological tests is also in line with the APHA (2021a) guidance, which states that “The GB National Brucella Reference Laboratory at Animal & Plant Health Agency, Weybridge recommends serological testing in most cases in order to obtain results with the most reliable sensitivity. This would also apply for any pre-import testing”.
Given the way in which B. canis can be transmitted to other animals and humans, it is understandable that vets would request that testing occurs in order to protect the welfare of anyone attending their practice.
We would welcome that you share this page with your vet to show them what they can expect from us as a rescue, and ask for their input as to whether or not our procedure is enough evidence to show that the animal has tested negative for B. canis and whether it can be registered at the practice with no further tests needed and at no additional cost to you as an adopter. The vet may:
Accept our test result and agree to register the rescue with them with no further tests needed;
Decide that another test may be needed prior to the rescue being registered with them, and either ask for this to be done in Romania or be done at their practice upon the rescue’s arrival in the UK. We are unable to cover this as part of our standard adoption donation, and we would ask that any such test be covered by yourself (costs may be £60 – £100 for a test run in Romania and £150 – £200 for a test run in the UK, but your vet is better placed to advise on the UK cost).
For more details on how B. canis is transmitted and UK Public Health Opinion please see below.
Dogs become infected with B. canis predominantly through ingestion, inhalation, or contact with aborted fetuses or placenta, vaginal secretions, or semen. Infected dogs may shed low concentrations of bacteria in either seminal fluid or vaginal secretions, or saliva, nasal secretions and urine (Hensel, Negron & Arenas-Gamboa, 2018). Other routes of transmission include in utero, broken skin, blood transfusions, faeces, milk, and objects prone to carry the infection further such as contaminated syringes and artificial insemination equipment (Cosford, 2018). Due to the bacteria persisting in the prostate and lymphoid tissues, an infected dog may still be able to transmit the infection even if it has been spayed/neutered (Hensel, Negron & Arenas-Gamboa, 2018).
The major route of B. canis transmission from dogs to humans is through secretions (such as those from the animal’s eyes, mouth, nose and genital area) (Cosford, 2018). While laboratory personnel, veterinarians, and animal caretakers are at increased risk for exposure to B. canis, Hensel, Negron & Arenas-Gamboa (2018) report that several documented cases highlight pet ownership as a likely risk factor leading to infection in healthy persons, and that children and immunosuppressed people might be at higher risk for acquiring the disease. Thus, dog owners could also come into contact with B. canis through normal social and grooming activities.
In February 2021, a document entitled “Risk review and statement on the risk Brucella canis presents to the UK human population” was released. The document was prepared by Public Health England (PHE) on behalf of the joint Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS) group. According to the document, there has been an increase in B. canis infections reported in dogs in the UK since summer of 2020, mostly due to import from Europe (Public Health England, 2021).
In May 2021, APHA (2021b) stated that “because of mixing and breeding, the first identified cases of within-UK transmission of this disease have now occurred”.
Due to current gaps in the knowledge on how confirmed cases of B. canis cases are currently distributed across the UK, as well as the gaps in the clinical aspects of disease in both dogs and humans, the HAIRS group could not conduct a thorough risk assessment on this disease. The group instead described the risks of contracting B. canis and offered recommendations to minimise the risk, such as wearing adequate PPE if operating in a higher risk setting (e.g. vets and lab technicians), and introducing voluntary testing for B. canis prior to an animal traveling to the UK. The HAIRS group did not, however, make any suggestions or recommendations on which test (e.g. serum agglutination test or PCR) would be considered appropriate, and only generally recommend to “encourage charities or organisations importing dogs from B. canis endemic countries to ensure B. canis negative pre-export testing for the dog(s) in the country of origin before importing into the UK” (Public Health England, 2021).
We aim to update this page in line with any future changes to this advice.
APHA (2021a). “Imported disease summaries for dogs and cats”. Retrieved May 3, 2023 from http://apha.defra.gov.uk/documents/surveillance/diseases/imported-dog-disease-for-dog-and-cats.pdf
APHA (2021b). “Canine Brucellosis: Summary Information Sheet”. Retrieved June 6, 2023 from http://apha.defra.gov.uk/documents/surveillance/diseases/Canine-Brucellosis-Summary-Final-260421.pdf
Cochrane UK (2019). “Sensitivity and specificity explained: A Cochrane UK Trainees blog”. Retrieved June 6, 2023 from https://uk.cochrane.org/news/sensitivity-and-specificity-explained-cochrane-uk-trainees-blog
Cosford, Kevin L. “Brucella canis: an update on research and clinical management.” The Canadian Veterinary Journal 59.1 (2018): 74
Hensel, Martha E., Maria Negron, and Angela M. Arenas-Gamboa. “Brucellosis in dogs and public health risk.” Emerging infectious diseases 24.8 (2018): 1401.
NHS (2020). “Brucellosis”. Retrieved June 6, 2023 from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/brucellosis/
Public Health England. (2021). “Risk review and statement on the risk Brucella canis presents to the UK human population”. Retrieved May 3, 2023 from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hairs-risk-statement-brucella-canis
WHO (2020). “Brucellosis”. Retrieved June 6, 2023 from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/brucellosis