I’ve heard about anthrax in people. Should I be concerned for my dog?
anthrax is being used as a method of bio-terrorism and dogs can be
infected, as can most mammals. Birds are normally resistant to the
disease. Different animals have different levels of susceptibility to
anthrax infection. Herbivores (cattle, sheep, horses) are the most
susceptible and humans; dogs are less susceptible to infection. Under
normal circumstances cases of anthrax in dogs are very rare.
What causes anthrax?
Anthrax is an
infection caused by the bacterial microorganism, Bacillus anthracis.
This type of bacterium can develop small spherical bodies called
spores within the bacterial cell.
These spores, each of which can develop into a new anthrax bacterial
cell, are much more capable of surviving in the environment than the
more fragile parent cell and spores are also more resistant to
disinfectants. Spores may survive in an environment for many years,
but it takes quite a large number of spores to cause an infection with
anthrax a new disease?
No, anthrax has been
described for hundreds of years. It occurs in all parts of the world
and is most usually seen as a sporadic disease in farm animals and
occasionally in wild animals.
How is anthrax spread?
Anthrax is not
normally contagious from animal to animal. Most livestock infections
occur by inhalation or ingestion of spores from pasture that has been
contaminated by a decomposing infected carcass. In carnivores such as
cats, ingestion of infected meat is the usual route of infection. In
people it has been typically farm workers, veterinarians, and
slaughterhouse personnel who have come into contact with infected
carcasses. Even then it usually takes a high dose of spores to cause
more than a local skin infection. In the past, sheep fleeces were a
source of anthrax spores and anthrax in those workers was called
What are the symptoms?
Anthrax can cause
different types of disease. A skin form,
most common in people that come in contact with the anthrax organism
or its spores, results in local inflammation and black pustules form.
An intestinal form,
where the organism has been ingested in large amounts and the tissues
lining the alimentary tract from the throat down are inflamed, causes
bloody diarrhea. A pneumonic form
develops when large numbers of the anthrax organism or spores have
been inhaled into the respiratory tract causing pneumonia and
respiratory problems. The infection can have a
affecting most or all body systems, including the brain.
The rare cases in
cats have usually been by ingestion of infected meat causing the
intestinal form of anthrax. There is acute gastroenteritis with
vomiting and diarrhea. The throat may be swollen and there may be
visible swelling of the neck extending to the face and head. The
tongue and lips may also be affected.
How can anthrax be treated?
The anthrax bacterium
is susceptible to a number of antibiotics. Currently the antibiotic of
choice in humans is “cipro” (ciprofloxacin). Treatment is highly
effective in the early stages of infection.
Can my dog be vaccinated against anthrax?
There is currently
no commercial anthrax vaccine available for cats or dogs although a
number of vaccines of varying effectiveness have been produced
starting with the pioneer work of Louis Pasteur in the 1880’s.
Vaccines have been used in some parts of the world for domestic
livestock and for humans employed in high-risk occupations.