UW Shelter Medicine Program Assists Wisconsin Animal Shelters With Canine Brucellosis Response

Two dogs recently transported from overseas to animal shelters and rescue groups in Wisconsin have tested positive for canine brucellosis. The Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) is working closely with affected organizations to implement precautionary measures.

None of the transported dogs appear to be ill and the risk of human or animal transmission is low, according to Shelter Medicine Program Director Sandra Newbury, SVM clinical assistant professor.

“This is a low-risk situation, but in an abundance of caution, the dogs have been placed in quarantine to even further reduce the risk,” says Newbury. “The shelters are on top of this and are working with our program, guided by state health officials.”

Canine brucellosis is a reproductive disease in dogs caused by Brucella canis, a bacterium mainly transmitted during breeding or birth. The infection is found worldwide but is rare in pet dogs in the United States. The bacteria are transmissible to people through contact with infected fluids but human cases are very uncommon.

It is also not considered a risk to the agricultural industry. The B. canis bacterium is different from the Brucella pathogens that infect cattle and pigs. Cattle, swine and sheep have been found to be highly resistant to infection with B. canis.

In March, six Wisconsin animal shelters and rescue organizations, including the Washington County Humane Society, Humane Animal Welfare Society in Waukesha, Humane Society of Sheboygan County, Elmbrook Humane Society and Underdog Pet Rescue, received 26 dogs transported from South Korea by Humane Society International.

None of the dogs transported from South Korea to Wisconsin show signs of illness, but diagnostic testing revealed two dogs positive for B. canis. Wisconsin statutes require positive canine brucellosis tests be reported to the state. Public health authorities with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection were immediately notified and have led the response.

Each dog, even those that tested negative for canine brucellosis, will be quarantined until they are no longer considered at risk. In addition, shelter dogs that were potentially exposed to the dogs from South Korea will also be quarantined. In total, approximately 100 dogs are expected to require quarantine.

The UW–Madison Shelter Medicine Program is advising the shelters on quarantine procedures and, in coordination with Humane Society International and the shelters, are working to open one or more temporary quarantine facilities for possibly exposed dogs. This will allow the shelters to remain open or resume operations as quickly as possible. At present, the Washington County Humane Society is open for all other operations aside from dogs, but is working diligently to resume normal dog operations as well.

“Because testing will extend into May, an off-site quarantine will allow the shelters to go back to their normal operations and the potentially exposed dogs to make it through and then be adopted, while minimizing any risk to the public,” Newbury says.

Some dogs were placed into adoptive homes prior to the positive test results. In those cases, state public health officials are contacting adopters to instruct them to place the dogs in quarantine in the home.

Newbury emphasizes there is little risk for other pets and members of the public. “There’s a very low risk of transmission for canine brucellosis outside of breeding operations,” she says.

The Wisconsin Humane Society did not receive dogs from the Humane Society International transport but is providing assistance by taking in dogs that would otherwise go to the affected shelters.