Causes and Symptoms of Meningitis in Dogs How to Spot This Aggressive Disease

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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.

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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.

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