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Q Fever in Dogs

Bacterial Zoonotic Disease in Dogs

Q fever is a bacterial disease caused by Coxiella burnetii. Although it shares structural similarities with Rickettsia bacteria, it is genetically distinct. Dogs typically contract this disease by ingesting infected bodily fluids (such as urine, feces, milk, and discharges), tissues, or carcasses of infected animals like cattle, sheep, or goats. Additionally, the bacteria can spread through the air and via fleas or lice that carry C. burnetii in its parasitic form.

Q fever is endemic worldwide and can affect dogs of any age, gender, or breed. Importantly, it is zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted to humans. Thus, caution is necessary when handling bodily fluids, organs, or tissue material from any animal, especially farm animals. Proper disposal of birth remains is essential, and dogs should be fed pasteurized products exclusively.

Symptoms and Types

The lungs are believed to be the primary entry point for C. burnetii into the systemic circulation. Once inside, the bacterium replicates in the lining of the organs, leading to widespread vasculitis. Inflammation of the dog’s blood vessels can cause the destruction of blood cells and hemorrhaging in the lungs, liver, and central nervous system.

Following the contraction of the disease, dogs may exhibit some of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Lack of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Miscarriage (although uncommon in dogs)

The specific symptoms displayed by your dog and the severity of Q fever will depend on the strain of the organism it is infected with. Often, animals infected with C. burnetii may experience a period of latency. However, during the birthing process, the bacterium may become active again, leading to a significant increase in bacterial presence in the placenta and the host’s bodily fluids, including urine, feces, and milk.

Causes

Exposure to animals infected with C. burnetii, particularly those that have recently given birth, as well as exposure to ticks, fleas, and lice.

Diagnosis

Providing a comprehensive history of your dog’s health and its lifestyle preceding the onset of symptoms will aid your veterinarian in the diagnosis process.

Your veterinarian will then perform a thorough blood profile on your dog, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. Blood serum collected from the dog will be refrigerated to facilitate the identification of the organism’s type. Additionally, the veterinarian will obtain a tissue sample, such as from the placenta, and refrigerate it for future use as an inoculator.

Treatment

Effective medications are available to eliminate the bacterial infection, and your veterinarian will assist you in devising a suitable treatment regimen for your dog. It’s important to note that C. burnetii is more resistant to eradication compared to other types of Rickettsiae bacteria.

Given the zoonotic nature of Q fever, it’s crucial to exercise extreme caution when handling infected animals. To minimize the risk of disease transmission, your dog should be promptly hospitalized upon diagnosis of Q fever.

Living and Management

Assessing the success of therapy can be challenging as many animals may show spontaneous improvement. However, even asymptomatic cases should be treated aggressively due to the risk of human infection.

Once a dog is diagnosed, human exposure and infection have likely occurred. Therefore, individuals who have been in contact with the dog should promptly seek medical attention. The incubation period from contact to the onset of symptoms ranges from 5 to 32 days.

Humans typically contract the disease by inhaling infected aerosols, especially post-birth, while children often acquire infection from consuming raw dairy milk, though they are usually asymptomatic. Person-to-person transmission is possible but uncommon.

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