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Causes and Symptoms of Meningitis in Dogs

How to Spot This Aggressive Disease

By February 03, 2014 | See Comments

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Meningitis is a dangerous neurological disease that can affect many dog breeds. If not detected early and treated, severe neurological issues can follow. Find out more about this disease and what symptoms to look out for.

Just like humans, dogs have protective layers of membrane that cover the spinal cord and the brain. These membranes are called the meninges, and an inflammation of the meninges is what is referred to as meningitis. If left untreated, meningitis can result in serious neurological problems, including seizures and paralysis. In severe cases, it can also be fatal.

Causes of Meningitis in Dogs

Meningitis is most commonly a secondary complication of an infection that originated elsewhere in the dog’s body. If the infection spreads to the central nervous system, it can cause inflammation of the protective membranes, and thus meningitis.

Bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections can all make their way to the central nervous system, and among them some common causes of meningitis include:

  • Ear infection
  • Eye infection
  • Nasal passage infection
  • Sinus infection
  • Bacterial infection from an injury (such as a bite wound)
  • Rabies
  • Distemper
  • Lyme disease
  • Diskospondylitis (inflammation of vertebral disks due to infection)
  • Vertebral osteomyelitis (bone infection in the spinal region)

Meningitis can also be caused by exposure to certain toxins or drugs; be immune-mediated, which means that it is the result of an irregular immune system response; or it can be idiopathic, meaning that the cause is not known.

Steroid responsive meningitis is a common form of meningitis, and it is characterized by inflammation of the meninges as well as the walls of arteries. With this type of meningitis, the cause is usually unknown.

Who Is at Risk for Meningitis?

While all dogs are susceptible to meningitis, young puppies are at especially high risk because they have weakened immune systems. In addition, some breeds seem to be more susceptible to meningitis than others, and they include: Beagles, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Maltese, and Pugs.

Symptoms of Meningitis in Dogs

The symptoms of meningitis can vary depending on how ill your dog is. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle stiffness or spasms (especially in the neck, back, and forelegs)
  • Rigid or unsteady walking
  • Sensitivity to touch (hyperesthesia)
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Head tilting
  • Low blood pressure

In advanced cases, you may see:

  • Blindness
  • Severe depression
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis (usually progressive)
  • Disorientation/confusion
  • Loss of muscle coordination (ataxia). May appear as uncontrolled movements or abnormal walking.
  • Agitation or aggression

When to Seek Help for Meningitis

Meningitis is a very serious condition, and without immediate intervention, it can be fatal. If you ever see any symptoms, take your dog to the veterinarian right away. The prognosis for dogs with meningitis can vary and often depends on a combination of how soon treatment is started and how well your dog responds to treatment. As with many other conditions, early diagnosis and treatment will give your dog the best chance for recovery.

More on Brain Health

White Dog Shaker Syndrome
Dog Neurological Disorders and Brain Health
The Dog Symptom Checker

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

2016-11-12T23:15:41

Just saw your post!! PLEASE Look up hepatazoonosis myositis symptoms. My dog had this. Same symptoms. Spent thousands and went to 3 different vets before I took to one amazing vet and he diagnosed him just by looking at him! It's not very common. He would be on antibiotics; get better then relapse. He had to stay on deccox medication daily(normally for cattle) the rest of his life but he lived for 10 years on this medication with no further symptoms! I pray this helps.


2016-09-29T11:38:12

MY DOG PASSED AWAY RECENTLEY AND VET STILL CANNOT TELL US what she died of. spent £800 trying to find out . she went in with a sore back originally and the anesthetic vet gave her made her collapse she was never the same again . after this vet put her on methadone and tramadol made her worse .dog deteriorated until she died. she stopped eating I had to force feed her, she became aggressive at one point lost control of her bladder, couldn't walk properly and fell over a lot, pressing head into corners. could meningitis have caused this or was it vet negligence.


2016-06-20T15:36:40

I'm so sorry to hear about your Dog and I also hope everything is working out for you too ! You and your Dog will be in my prayers for a speedy recovery !


2016-06-14T21:57:14

I am severely disabled. In January my service dog died of tick bit fever in spite of being on frontline. Two weeks earlier my oldest dog died at the awesome age of 19. My new service dog has just wormed his way into everyone's hearts. He had to be rushed to the vet, turns out he has bad meningitis. Doc does not make any promises because it is so severe. And I am having surgery first thing in the morning. I feel so alone! I don't feel I can servive this.


2016-06-09T17:23:03

Well he was given a steroid injection so withing 24 hours there was improvement. It was at least 4-5 before he was starting to act like himself again but a couple of weeks before he was like normal. He did eat a lot and that caused some digestive issues (which alarmed me) but the vet put him on pepcid to ease those issue. Zeke is starting to get weaned slowly and we'll see how that works. My vet did warn that he might have to go back on them if his issues reoccur. I know how frustrating and scary but know that you are doing whats in your powers. Just keep the dog as active as possible so that it doesn't gain too much weight from the steroid. Zeke also got a little cozy with my female lab at first (he's not fixed) which was abnormal behavior caused by the steroid


2016-06-09T16:22:09

Hi Sure, how long after starting the steroids did you notice an improvement in your dog. We are on day three and haven't see much. Thank you


2016-05-24T20:48:11

Good luck and I hope for the best for your dog Susie and my dog Zeke.


2016-05-24T10:41:46

He didn't have a fever but that is a symptom of meningitis. His ears didn't twitch but he would wince if you touched them. He had an MRI & spinal tap which confirmed the meningitis but they could not determine the cause and started him on an antibiotic which allowed him to improve for about 2 weeks then he had another episode and was started on the steroids. He will slowly be weaned from the steroid but I will have to monitor him to ensure no setback or he will be on steroids for an extended amount of time. After researching if you do not have the MRI & tap which ran me around $3200 this was the regime that would be used anyway (the MRI just ruled out brain cancer) but did show inflammation. Also my dog was very healthy and active before all of this.


2016-05-23T23:44:48

Did your dog have a fever? His ears twitch? Was your dog healthy before age 7? My dog is taking a new antibiotic which penetrates the spinal fluid. One last try before the MRI and spinal tap.


2016-05-23T17:49:34

I have a cattle dog that is 7 and was just diagnosed with immune meningoencephalitis. He was unable to walk (vertigo) and was given antibiotics and temporarily became better but then worsened. The neurologist has him on steroids which has caused a full? recovery and he is being weaned off of them slowly but time will tell as to whether he will have a relapse or not. I wish you luck


2016-05-03T01:48:13

My 12 month old cattle dog has been sick with a fever off and on since Feb 2016. I have spent over 5K and still don't know what is wrong. When she relapse, has a high fever, becomes stiff, but still eats and potty's with help. I don't understand why a Vet can't figure this out. We have seen two specialist. Still on antibiotics and she bounces back. Cat scan of the skull and neck. They have looked down her throat, into her nose and ears. Tons of blood work, always high white cell count. Lowers when on antibiotics. I feel the future is bleak. what to do next???


2016-03-01T20:21:01

The Doctor in the Sayreville Hospital in N.J , happened to be very nice Lady and sympathetic ! Going threw the normal tests she mentioned meningitis based upon her experiences with these dogs and obviously the the ability for certain species of dogs particularly the Maltese, Pugs, Yorkshire's among others may have problems breeding from the same genetic family over and over AND OVER AGAIN ! Of course a breeder never tells you this fact ! As I now read more about dogs some are more destined for a short life and health issues than other species ! Ultimately its the breeder , did they ever check for the propensity for certain dogs to get sick probably not, money talks bullshit walks ---- right ! I spent 950.00 for my dog Prinz , would I do this again , NO ! This will be the last time I ever spend money on a dog and will not buy any other dog doing my life time ! BUT , I had the best dog I could ever ask god for and more faithful then anybody . In his short life he showed me about who he was and how much he loved and enjoyed being with us and that my friend is priceless !!! Everyone cried in the family for days . And I'll know when the days get warmer with the spring breeze I could just imagine his little wet nose and his white fur reflecting the sun . He was a real companion not some trophy dog to be tucked away but with an attitude that occasionally peed in the corner which really ticked off my wife ! You wrote, " It was unexpected. I was too sudden", your right my daughter as well as me felt cheated . Before he was put to sleep he wagged his tail one last time ,I felt that I betrayed him ! They gave me a paw print which finally solidified so we can touch it now, his ashes were spread in the pet cemetery in Hamilton N.J. along with the other dogs that died in that hospital that week. I'm currently working on a tribute to my pet Prinz it'll be posted on either facebook or youtube. Also mourning the loss of a dog or any animal for that matter takes time , give yourself time to heal. I also believe in the after life which gives me the understanding that this life even for us is not forever. One day we will go behind the veil too and someone will morn our loss also, maybe a fury friend ! There are animals in heaven this the bible speaks of where God will say " Behold I make all things new" !!


2016-02-23T18:06:05

My Dog was Misdiagnosed and they thought it was a herniated disc common in Maltese's. He got so bad that he couldn't walk or eat and In the end they put him to sleep at only 5 years old there was nothing they could do ! The whole family cried he was so nice , only a memory with many photos now !

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Meningitis at a glance

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  • 1Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord
  • 2Meningitis can be caused by anything that triggers inflammation
  • 3Usually the result of a disease or infection in another part of the body that spreads to the nervous system
  • 4Common symptoms of meningitis include fever, stiffness, unsteadiness, lethargy, loss of appetite, and vomiting
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