Join us in celebrating 10 years of Paws2Rescue with a £10 donation
thank you!
Paws2Rescue logo featuring the symbol of a dogs paw inside a blue cross.

Brucella canis seroprevalence survey in rescued dogs in Romania reveals a need for enhanced testing and responsible interventions

Canine brucellosis has been a subject of ample debate in the rescue world, both in terms of accurate testing and implications of a positive result, but also in terms of the management of positive cases. The brunt of the suspicion for the increased number of positive dogs has fallen on adopted foreign rescue dogs arriving to their new homes in the United Kingdom which led Paws2Rescue to incept, fund and drive this study.

Part of the mission of the Center for Education and Animal Services (founded by Paws2Rescue in partnership with Romanian veterinary professionals and researchers in 2023) is the need to understand the issues faced by the rescue community and tackle their root causes. As such, beyond our usual activities of education about responsible animal ownership and social medicine, which entails spay campaigns and management of social cases, the team has undertaken the difficult task of investigating the true prevalence of Brucella canis in Romania. 

A pilot study was designed in partnership with researchers from Spiru Haret Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the Estonian University of Life Sciences and 100 dogs were tested using RSAT at an accredited lab in Romania. The study methodology was designed with the help of experts in the field (including in the UK) and enrollment in the pilot phase of the study took place between August and November 2023 to include seven lots from four different counties in south-central Romania (Ilfov, Giurgiu, Prahova and Calarasi). The samples, taken from rescued dogs residing in sanctuaries and private shelters were sent for screening, and 8% (n=8) of dogs were found to be positive by the accredited laboratory using MegaRSAT® BRUCELLA CANIS kits.

The study population included 36 males and 64 female dogs aged 4 months to 15 years, with an average age of 3.5 years. The majority of subjects were mixed breed dogs of medium size and had no suggestive medical histories indicative of B. canis exposure. Within the surveyed population, 12% were large sized dogs with high exposure profiles (shepherding activities). Nevertheless, only one dog screened positive from that subset. The positive cases were equally distributed across genders (n=4 female and n=4 male) and the positive patients’ ages ranged between 9 months to 8 years old.

Coexisting health conditions observed in positive cases ranged from cardiac issues to antecedent viral infections and conditions indicative of neglect or abuse. However, none of the positive dogs displayed overt clinical manifestations indicative of B. canis infection, and as such, in the absence of our survey, they would not have led one to suspect the presence of Brucella canis. Of the positive cases, 7 dogs had been neutered prior to sample collection and one’s surgical procedure took place on the same day as the sample prelevation. 

Figure 1: Sample distribution by county
GroupsNo.CountyDetails
Group 11-10Ilfov county (IF)Private shelter
Group 211-30Prahova county (PH)Sanctuary
Group 331-50Giurgiu county (GR)Private shelter
Group 451-67Calarasi county (CL)Spay campaign
Group 568-76Giurgiu county (GR)Private shelter
Group 677-79Ilfov county (IF)Sanctuary
Group 780-100Prahova county (PH)Private shelter
Table 1: Sample distribution by group

The pilot study results underscore the importance of continued testing for canine brucellosis as the disease is currently largely “invisible” to public authorities, the rescue community and to animal owners in Romania. This is why our team is moving onto phase two of our Brucella canis survey and will undertake actions on two critical directions:

  • Enhance testing and awareness for the need to screen dogs accurately.
  • Educate and raise awareness in Romania about the responsible and humane management of positive cases to reduce transmission risk. 

In order to encourage testing to screen for this emergent zoonotic threat in Romania, our team also had to tackle the challenge of understanding why dog owners are hesitant to screen their pets for brucellosis. Consequently, in order to bridge the divide that currently exists in terms of public policies, the practices of local and international veterinary professionals and the public’s concerns, our team is rolling out a survey to better understand how dog owners think about Brucella canis testing and responsible management of positive dogs.  

The survey, which can be accessed on the link below, takes under 5 minutes to complete but could help explain to decision-makers why so many dog owners are hesitant to test their companions and how the community needs support and effective public policies in helping manage the spread of Brucella canis infections, in a humane but responsible manner (https://forms.office.com/e/PEUisk0eUe). 

In terms of core activities during phase two testing, involving 300 dogs, our team has focused on enhancing testing protocols to align them with current international practices, thus making available testing at APHA laboratory in the UK. Furthermore, our team remains mindful of the potential cross-reactivity and is actively screening for other diseases with high zoonotic risk (like leishmaniasis). Particular focus in this phase is placed on mapping potential hotspots to enhance awareness and encourage testing, using geotagging and machine learning to understand transmission dynamics.

In partnership with local and international NGOs our team is working on developing and disseminating educational materials for communities in Romania as well as in veterinary settings, to enhance awareness of the need for accurate testing for canine brucellosis. They include brochures, posters, and online resources as well as events targeted at veterinary professionals and the general public to educate and inform about responsible management, accurate testing and prophylaxis. Our activity calendar for the next few months includes participation to two major international events, presenting our pilot study findings as well as local, targeted workshops and training events in Romania.

JUNE
Survey to gauge perceptions, attitudes and patterns of behaviour regarding Brucella canis testing and management of positive cases amongst dog owners, rescuers and veterinary professionals;
Participation to the 9th International Conference on Emerging Zoonoses in Palermo, Italy
Workshop on B. canis diagnosis, management of positive cases and zoonosis prevention;
dissemination of brochure on testing and responsible management;
Publishing survey and seroprevalence study to disseminate findings and raise awareness;
Community events in Romania;
Training for veterinary professionals and rescue workers;
Participation to international conferences and local veterinary and community events to disseminate results (8th World One Health Congress in September 2024 and others).
Figure 2: Activity calendar – Awareness Campaign, Phase Two

Our mission in Romania is to advocate for responsible, science-backed interventions that are effective and protect animal welfare. As such, we are keen supporters of proactive screening of rescued dogs and taking responsible, common-sense actions to limit the spread of canine brucellosis, such as spaying and neutering and isolating positive cases to ensure that shedding into the environment does not pass to other dogs, wildlife and indeed humans.

Paws2Rescue will continue to approach the rehoming process with a mindset that protects both the well-being of our dogs and of the families giving them a chance at a new life. Since the end of 2023, our adopted dogs have their blood sent from Romania to the APHA laboratory in the UK for testing – prior to the dogs leaving Romania.

Only through education and increased awareness can we hope to limit the transmission of canine brucellosis and not put at risk the work we have all carried out in improving animal welfare in Romania over the past two decades.

Our Brucella canis seroprevalence research is being presented and discussed at The International Conference on Emerging Zoonoses in Italy in June 2024 and at the World One Health Congress in September 2024.

8 June 2024