The British Veterinary Association (BVA) advises veterinary teams to consider all available clinical information alongside laboratory test results for Brucella canis and individually assess cases when deciding on suitable treatment or euthanasia options for dogs that tested positive.
The advice is part of a new joint policy position from BVA, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), Society for Practicing Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) and British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) and includes a suite of recommendations and resources around the diagnosis, testing and management of Brucella canis. The position also calls on the government to tighten pet import rules and introduce appropriate mandatory pre-import testing to shut the door on this and other serious exotic diseases.
Among the recommendations, the policy position advises:
- Use their clinical judgement to make a contextualised decision regarding testing for B. canis based on risk assessment and conversations with the animal owner and all relevant stakeholders – information from this policy position and from APHA and BSAVA will be useful when making these decisions
- Make owners aware of associated costs and potential outcomes before tests are conducted to ensure informed consent
- In most cases, use B. canis SAT and iELISA serological tests to determine the infection status of a dog, using blood samples taken three months after potential infection. However, serological tests alone should not be used to confirm infection, and results should be considered with additional evidence, such as clinical signs, travel history and likelihood of exposure to the infection
- Individually assess cases when deciding on suitable treatment or euthanasia options following confirmation of B. canis infection – the quality of life and the potential impact on the dog, other dogs and people should take precedence over longevity for the infected dog
- Improve awareness of clinical signs and risk factors amongst colleagues and the animal-owning public to help manage and minimise the spread of the disease while continuing to provide appropriate care for potentially at-risk dogs
The recommendations in the new policy position carefully consider findings of the UK health security agency’s HAIRS report last September, which classified the risk to the general public as very low and for individuals at greater risk of exposure including veterinary teams and owners of infected dogs, as low.
In the last four years, there has been an increase in the number of identified B. canis cases in the UK, which had previously been sporadic and isolated. Data released by the government shows that cases rose from just three before 2020 to 240 in the last three years. Most dogs were either imported, had returned from a holiday overseas, or had been bred with an imported dog. In 2022, news also emerged of the first UK case of dog-to-human transmission, highlighting the risks to those handling and treating infected dogs and raising levels of concern within veterinary teams despite this being relatively low.
Responding to the launch of the joint policy position, BVA president Anna Judson said: “The rise in detected cases of Brucella canis in recent years must be taken seriously while keeping in mind that the risk to humans, even for veterinary teams, is deemed to be low.
“Testing and decision-making for suspected or confirmed B. canis cases can be complicated and challenging, which is why our advice to veterinary professionals is to use the risk assessment information provided by APHA, BSAVA and BVA when making any decision.
“Interpreting test results is challenging, and a single serological test alone is insufficient to confirm a dog’s infection status. We recommend that clinical signs, epidemiological links and diagnostics be considered when evaluating an infection status and considering what action to take.
“Veterinary teams should continue to take suitable precautions to mitigate the risks from potentially infected dogs.
“We continue to call on the government to introduce appropriate mandatory pre-import testing and tighten import rules to reduce the risk of this and other serious exotic diseases from entering the UK.”
BSAVA president Carl Gorman said: “Brucella canis demonstrates the potential risks imported diseases pose to both human and animal health. The fact that a dog might carry the disease without any obvious clinical signs or that clinical signs can be ambiguous understandably creates a degree of uncertainty for both vets and pet owners.
“The BSAVA scientific information document provides relevant information for veterinary staff in practice along with APHA resources, and we would encourage their use by vets to support decision-making with owners on suitable options tailored for their situation. Vets are also well placed to help educate owners and increase their awareness not just about the impact an infected dog can have on the community but also on how the spread of the disease can be minimised”.
SPVS president Ryan Davis said: “While the incidence is currently low, the risk to our teams is very real, so taking action before the disease is endemic is crucial. The BVA policy position is a valuable resource to teams but needs to be backed up by government legislation”.
BVNA president Lyndsay Hughes said: “There is currently much concern and uncertainty within the veterinary nursing profession regarding the incidence of potential and actual Brucella canis cases and the risk to human health, particularly within our veterinary teams. The profession and the public should be reassured that the risk is currently low. However, we cannot ignore that the incidence of Brucella canis is rising”.