Dogs who haven't been neutered can spread bacteria to their owners, according to new research. Experts warn that one particular strain, which produces flu-like symptoms in humans, could possibly jeopardize a pregnancy for an expectant woman.
The July 2018 study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases found that a strain of brucellosis called Brucella canis, which is carried by dogs, might be widespread in humans as well. Researchers analyzed a couple of case studies, including a 3-year-old girl who fell ill with brucellosis after exposure to an infected puppy from a pet store.
"At this point, we don't know what the incidence in the United States is, and how many dogs are carrying this bacteria," said lead researcher Martha Hensel, DVM, in a report by HealthDay. "We would like to put that out there for clinicians to think about, in terms of the risk of transmission from dogs to people."
Researchers also aren't exactly sure how the bacteria might spread to humans, but it's most likely due to contact with urine or reproductive organs. It's not immediately clear why this is such a huge problem in unneutered dogs specifically.
Here's what experts do know: Brucellosis causes symptoms such as fever, sweats, fatigue, headache, and muscle pain, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although those issues might not seem that bad, brucellosis can also lead to long-term health problems including arthritis and swelling of the heart. On top of that, moms-to-be might also have serious trouble with their pregnancies — especially if they don't seek treatment as soon as possible.
The good news is that on average, most healthy adults are not likely to contract this disease unless they're exposed to a high concentration of bacteria, according to Hensel. The bad news is that people who regularly handle unneutered pups — including vets, dog shelter employees, and dog breeders — are most at risk. Unfortunately, owning a dog may also put people at risk, especially young kids and folks with compromised immune systems.
How to Reduce Risk of Brucellosis
The CDC says further work is needed in order to improve diagnostic testing for brucellosis for both humans and animals, and also to create policies to prevent the spread of disease. That said, there are a few simple steps you can take now to reduce your risk, straight from the CDC.
- Check with a trusted veterinarian to confirm whether or not your dog has been tested and diagnosed with brucellosis.
- If you find out your dog has brucellosis, discuss the available options for your pup, which may include sterilization, antimicrobial drug therapy, and repeat testing, or euthanasia if those other measures cannot be taken.
- If you cannot avoid having contact with an infected dog, practice good hygiene standards around it, especially when handling its urine, feces, or reproductive parts.
- Aside from handling furry friends, watch what you eat: Consumption of undercooked meat and unpasteurized dairy products can also put you at risk for brucellosis.