Tuberculosis is a contagious condition that was historically known as “consumption,” and which can affect humans and a range of other animals too, including dogs. It is a zoonotic condition, which means that it can be passed from one species to another-such as between humans and dogs, or cows and dogs.
It is a bacterial condition that primarily affects the lungs, and is caused by infection with different strains of bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium bovis respectively. Most dogs have a level or immunity to tuberculosis that means that even if they are exposed to it, they will not become ill-but this is not always the case, and young pups, dogs with a compromised immune system and dogs that are widely exposed to the bacteria are most at risk.
While the condition is not hugely common today in the UK thanks to progress over the last few decades to eradicate the disease from both human and animal populations, dogs can still catch or develop it-and so it is a good idea for dog owners to develop a basic understanding of the condition, how dogs catch it, and what can be done about it. Read on to learn more.
Tuberculosis infects the lungs, and leads to a range of problems such as severe coughing and shortness of breath, weakness and lethargy, and other more generalised symptoms such as loss of appetite and/or vomiting. It can also develop in other areas of the body, either as well as or instead of within the lungs themselves, and it can be challenging to eradicate once infection has set in.
It has a significant impact on the health of the dog and usually, infected dogs will be euthanised due to the health risk that they pose in terms of spreading the disease.
Tuberculosis is a zoonotic condition, which means that dogs can catch it from other species of animals as well as other dogs. Cows, humans, dogs and cats can all catch and spread tuberculosis, and some wildlife too, including badgers-in fact, the UK performed a large-scale cull of many wild badger populations within the last few years in order to limit the spread of the condition from badgers to cows.
Dogs can catch tuberculosis from cows or people; bovine transmission (from cows) can occur through contact with infected milk, meat or cows themselves, while transmission to dogs from people is rather different, as this version of the illness is airborne, which makes it much more likely for a dog to catch the illness from a person than from cows.
However, for dogs that live in rural areas and particularly, on or near dairy or beef farms, the risks of bovine transmission are of course higher if tuberculosis is found within a herd.
Even if tuberculosis is diagnosed or found within a herd or human population nearby, dogs do tend to be fairly resistant to catching the illness-but this is certainly something that you should be aware of, and dogs that live on or near to a farm that has an infection may have to be tested for the condition.
Also, tuberculosis in human populations is still rife in certain developing countries, including areas of sub-Saharan Africa, and so people visiting or moving to the UK from areas with higher incidences of the disease may have an increased risk of carrying the disease and passing it on to other people and animals in the UK.
Because tuberculosis is considered to be a threat to public health, there is a reporting protocol in place in the UK for any person or animal who is diagnosed with or suspected of having the condition.
Known or suspected cases in farm animals or pets must be reported to the Animal and Plant Health Agency, a governmental department, and this agency investigates all suspected cases and mandates protocols to isolate affected animals or herds in order to limit and prevent the spread of the condition.
If you know that there is a herd or diagnosed infection near to where you live and/or if you are concerned that your dog may have tuberculosis, you must contact your vet immediately in order to get your dog tested and diagnosed, and to protect other people and animals.
If your dog has come into contact with a person or animal infected with tuberculosis, you should isolate them and have them tested as soon as possible. However, try not to panic-as mentioned, dogs tend to be very resistant to the condition.
Symptoms of tuberculosis in dogs may take weeks or even months to develop, and may include:
These symptoms are not exhaustive, and will not present in every infected dog-however, because the condition is very contagious across both dogs and other species, you must contact your vet asap if you have any concerns.
Because of the health risk that tuberculosis poses to human and animal populations, unfortunately, it is not usually appropriate to attempt to treat infected dogs-the condition can be very hard to eradicate, and will remain infectious while treatment is attempted, risking the health of other animals and people including the vet managing the case and the owners of the dog.
Generally, a dog with tuberculosis must be euthanised, and any other pets (and people) that live with them tested.