Brucellosis: how to spot and report the disease

Advice on what to do if you suspect there is an outbreak of this infectious disease.

Brucellosis is a contagious disease of livestock. There are several varieties of brucellosis which affect different species including:

  • cattle
  • sheep
  • goats
  • pigs
  • dogs
  • humans

Scotland is officially brucellosis free and an outbreak of the disease could have significant impacts to animal and public health, and trade restrictions.

Brucellosis is characterised by abortions or reproductive failure. If you are a cattle keeper and any of your cattle have either prematurely calved or aborted a calf, you must report this to the APHA within 24 hours who will make an assessment of the case and advise on further actions. This report can be done by your private vet but it is your responsibility to ensure APHA is notified. Failure to report is an offence under the Animal Health Act 1981. The animal concerned and any abortion matter must be isolated from other bovine animals.

The infection may spread silently before keepers become aware and animals may recover from the disease, however they can continue to shed the bacteria causing spread of the disease with significant impact on the productivity of a herd or flock. Any animals which are infected, or suspected of being infected, will be slaughtered to prevent further spread of disease, and the keeper will generally receive compensation at 75% of the market value of the animal.


Latest situation: Great Britain has been officially brucellosis free since 1985. 

Brucellosis is still present in several European Union areas and it is important therefore to maintain an effective level of surveillance.

Clinical signs

In cattle

In cattle, the main signs of brucellosis are abortions and premature calf birth.

In sheep and goats

In sheep and goats the main signs of brucellosis are:

  • abortions in the herd
  • swollen udders due to infection of the mammary glands (milk producing organs)
  • swollen testicles
  • nervousness
  • fever

If you suspect signs of any notifiable diseases, you must immediately notify your Scotland: field service local office at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Failure to do so is an offence. 

In dogs

Brucella canis often affects the reproductive system in dogs and can cause infertility and miscarriages.

Dogs can also have other signs, such as:

  • tiredness
  • swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin
  • back and/or joint problems (including lameness)

Brucella canis is a reportable disease. Information for the public and dog owners is available on the UK Government website

How brucellosis is spread

The disease is spread by contact with infected material that contains the bacteria.

For humans this can include:

  • contact with the placenta of infected animals after they give birth or have abortions 
  • contact with discharge from genitals of infected animals
  • drinking raw (unpasteurised) milk or eating dairy products made from raw milk of infected animals

For animals this can include:

  • drinking water or eating feed that has been contaminated with the bacteria
  • licking discharge from the genitals of infected animals
  • drinking milk of an infected animal

Human health implications

Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from animals to humans. It causes flu-like symptoms and/or persistent headaches. It affects people of all ages and both sexes. If left untreated the disease may persist for weeks or months and can affect any organ in the body.

How to control the disease

If the disease is confirmed the outbreak will be controlled in line with the contingency plan for exotic notifiable diseases.


Any person who offers the sale of milk or milk products, or who buys milk from the keeper of a herd of dairy cows in Scotland for resale as milk or a milk product, must submit a sample of the milk at three monthly intervals for testing for evidence of the existence of brucellosis. This is a statutory obligation under the Brucellosis (Scotland) Order 2009, as amended.

Although Brucellosis has been eradicated from the indigenous national herd, there remains an ongoing threat of the disease re-entering through imported stock, and our surveillance programme means that we can catch disease early before it has an opportunity to spread.

Brucella canis is mostly found in dogs imported from Eastern Europe. We advise that all imported dogs are tested for Brucella canis before coming to the UK.


Great Britain achieved Officially Brucellosis Free Status (OBF) in 1985 under Council Directive 64/432/EEC. After leaving the EU, Scotland’s OBF status is now recognised under Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/404. Under this legislation, Annex II, Part 1 provides an animal health guarantee for Scotland, which states that ‘The Union has recognised freedom from infection with Brucella abortus, B. melitensis and B.suis of the third country, territory or zone as regards the specific species of animals referred to in column 3 in accordance with Article 10 of Delegated Regulation (EU) 2020/692’.

The Brucellosis (Scotland) Order 2009 (as amended) is currently in place to carry out surveillance for brucella abortus in cattle to align with the requirements of Regulation (EU) 2016/429, referred to as the Animal Health Regulation.

In 2021, changes to the Zoonoses Order 1989 included an amendment to add dogs to the list of animals in which detection of Brucella is reportable, this means that detection of brucellosis in dogs is reportable. 


Biosecurity is about being aware of the ways disease can spread and taking every practical measure to minimise the risk of disease spreading. The advice details practical things you can do on your farm to help prevent the introduction and spread of brucellosis to and from your animals.

Back to top