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The Brucella canis conundrum: views from a practising vet

15 Nov 2023 | Paul Higgs


The rise in Brucella canis cases has led to challenging decisions for vet teams around balancing the welfare of patients, staff, and the public. Paul Higgs, Chief Veterinary Officer at CVS, reflects on his experiences and how recent evidence and risk assessments have shaped the guidance for his team.

The Brucella canis conundrum: views from a practising vet Image

It was in 2019 that I was involved in my first case of Brucellosis in a dog. Up until that point, it was one of those things that was on a differential diagnosis list if you were feeling really clever, but we never thought we would see it. It was a case with discospondylitis and, as this was one of those diagnoses we had never made, an aspirate was taken and sent for culture. As you can imagine, when the lab grew it, all hell broke loose!

Four years on, a lot has changed- the number of imported dogs has significantly increased, the awareness of the risk of infection has also increased, and the opinion on what is best to do about it all has become a new point of contention in the profession. So much so that practices and staff have had to endure cruel and unpleasant judgement on social media such that they don’t feel safe to have an opinion in public.  

During this time, we have all had to do our best to keep our teams safe, but we didn’t really have sufficient good evidence to understand how to do so. There was a mismatch between our professional obligations to protect the welfare of individual patients and our professional obligations to protect the welfare of our staff, general public and other patients under our care.

In reality, veterinary teams have made the best decision that they could in the context of their own practice. For me, this challenge was to balance four areas:

  1. The welfare needs of an infected/high-risk patient
  2. The welfare needs of our staff
  3. The risk to naïve animals also under our care
  4. The health and welfare of the general public

All of this under the backdrop of not really knowing what we “should” do in regard to trying to maintain the UK as disease free. We have all seen very well-meaning pet owners desperate to help animals in need in countries outside of the UK being poorly informed as to the potential risks for all of the above four points. Once these dogs are in the UK and bonded to families, there is now the additional moral injury that a seemingly healthy dog is advised to be put to sleep, a situation that inevitably is incredibly emotive and divisive.

Thankfully, the available evidence and risk assessments are now in place so that we can make more measured decisions and understand the risks better. As part of the BVA Congress panel discussion on the rise of Brucella canis in the UK, I am excited to see how others have approached this issue and will also share how this evidence has shaped our guidance for our teams in a way that we hope balances all four of the areas discussed.

Paul Higgs is an RCVS Recognised and EBVS European Veterinary Specialist in Small Animal Medicine and Chief Veterinary Officer at CVS (UK).

Canine Conundrum: Exploring the rise of Brucella canis in the UK’ will take place in the BVA Congress theatre at London Vet Show at 12pm, Thursday 16 November.


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