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Melioidosis in Dogs

By Otto M. Radostits, CM, DVM, MSc, DACVIM (Deceased), Professor Emeritus, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan ; David A. Ashford, DVM, MPH, DSc, Assistant Area Director, International Services, APHIS, USDA ; Craig E. Greene, DVM, MS, Professor, Department of Small Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia ; Eugene D. Janzen, DVM, MVS, Professor, Production Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary ; Bert E. Stromberg, PhD, Professor, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota ; Max J. Appel, DMV, PhD, Professor Emeritus ; Stephen C. Barr, BVSc, MVS, PhD, DACVIM, Professor of Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University ; J. P. Dubey, MVSc, PhD, Microbiologist, Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, USDA ; Paul Ettestad, DVM, MS, State Public Health Veterinarian, Epidemiology and Response Division, New Mexico Department of Health ; Kenneth R. Harkin, DVM, DACVIM, Associate Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University ; Delores E. Hill, PhD, Parasitologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture ; Johnny D. Hoskins, DVM, PhD, Small Animal Consultant ; Jodie Low Choy, BVSc, BVMS, IVAS Cert, Menzies School of Health Research; University Avenue Veterinary Hospital, Northern Territory, Australia ; Barton W. Rohrbach, VMD, MPH, DACVPM, Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Medicine, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, University of Tennessee ; J. Glenn Songer, PhD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Science and Microbiology, University of Arizona ; Joseph Taboada, DVM, DACVIM, Professor and Associate Dean, Office of Student and Academic Affairs, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University ; Charles O. Thoen, DVM, PhD, Professor, Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University ; John F. Timoney, MVB, PhD, Dsc, MRCVS, Keeneland Chair of Infectious Diseases, Gluck Equine Research Center, Department of Veterinary Science, University of Kentucky ; Ian Tizard, BVMS, PhD, DACVM, University Distinguished Professor of Immunology; Director, Richard M. Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University

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Melioidosis is a bacterial infection of humans and animals. The disease-causing agent is Burkholderia pseudomallei, which occurs in the soil throughout southeast Asia, northern Australia, and the South Pacific. The true boundaries of this organism are unclear, as it may cause sporadic disease and outbreaks in other temperate regions. Melioidosis outbreaks have coincided with heavy rainfall, flooding, and disturbances in plumbing resulting in contamination of water supplies.

Melioidosis has been diagnosed in many animals, including dogs and humans. Species such as dogs and cats may succumb to infection due to a weakened immune system. Infection is normally transmitted from the environment to an animal rather than from animal to animal. The most common routes of infection are via skin inoculation, contamination of wounds, ingestion of soil or contaminated carcasses, or inhalation.

Signs can vary widely, and infection without signs is common. Infection may be associated with single or multiple curd-like nodules or abscesses, which can be located in any organ. When the infection enters through the skin, it often develops at distant sites without evidence of active infection at the site of entry. Pneumonia is the most common form of the disease in both animals and humans. Lameness can occur. It is possible for an infection to lie dormant before becoming apparent. Death may result in animals with sudden and intense infections or when vital organs are affected.

Treatment can be expensive and prolonged. Treatment protocols adopted for human infections are expected to have more success than the usual approach using conventional veterinary antibiotics. There is a risk that signs will return after treatment is discontinued. It is possible that this disease involves suppression of the immune system, especially in species that are less susceptible to infection. In areas where the disease-causing bacteria exist, prevention involves providing your pet with housing and sleeping areas that are not exposed to soil and providing clean drinking water that has been chlorinated and filtered (most municipal water supplies meet these requirements). Other preventive steps include restricting your pet’s access to the fecal material of other animals and dead animals in the environment.

Melioidosis can be passed to people, so appropriate precautions should be taken when handling infected dogs. The bacteria can be shed from wounds and, depending on the site of infection, from other sources, including nasal secretions, milk, feces, and urine.

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