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Causes and Symptoms of Pug Dog Encephalitis

A Fatal Condition With Unknown Causes

By February 03, 2014 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian


A Pug Laying On The Ground With A Sad Face

As cute as Pugs are, they are susceptible to a brain disorder with unknown causes called encephalitis. This neurological disease is only found in Pugs and can be fatal. Find out the warning signs for encephalitis here.

The adorable wrinkly Pug makes a wonderful family pet, but unfortunately, some of these dogs fall victim to a neurological disease called Pug dog encephalitis (PDE). Encephalitis refers to an inflammation of the brain tissues that causes pain, seizures, and ultimately death.

Read on to learn about the causes and symptoms of this serious condition.

Causes of Pug Dog Encephalitis

Unlike other forms of encephalitis that can be linked to infections, PDE is unique in that it is idiopathic, meaning that the cause is not known. However, because it tends to strike Pugs who are closely related (e.g., littermates), many veterinarians suspect that it is hereditary and immune-mediated. Immune-mediated diseases are those characterized by an abnormal immune response in which the body’s immune system is tricked into seeing normal tissues as dangerous, and then attacks them. In the case of PDE, the immune system would attack the brain.

Regardless of this widespread theory, there is still no definitive answer for what causes Pug dog encephalitis.

PDE usually strikes pugs between 2 and 3 years of age, though it can be seen in Pugs as young as 6 months old and as old as 7 years.

Symptoms of Pug Dog Encephalitis

Because PDE affects the brain, most of the symptoms are neurological, and include:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Seizures
  • Neck stiffness
  • Head tilt
  • Pressing head against walls or objects
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Loss of coordination
  • Walking in circles
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Blindness

In many cases, the symptoms of PDE will progress rapidly (in a matter of days or weeks) and result in sudden death, usually due to a seizure. In other cases, a Pug may be able to live a while longer with the help of anticonvulsant drugs to control seizures. Ultimately, all affected Pugs will succumb to the disease, usually within months after the onset of symptoms.

When to Seek Help for PDE

You should contact your veterinarian at the first appearance of symptoms. Because PDE is not the only cause of seizures in Pugs, your dog will likely be examined for other diseases such as epilepsy, intracranial tumor, and poisoning. If PDE is found, supportive treatment will be started immediately.

More on Pug Health

Pug Information: Health
Bathing a Pug's Wrinkles
The Best Food for an Obese Pug

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.


I just found out that my pug's littermate died last weekend from this horrible disease. I knew nothing about this disease until reading now. So far my pug hasn't showed any symptoms. Are vets diagnosing this by symptoms alone or is there a test we can do to see if she will develop this? I feel like we are now living with a timebomb!! Penny is a just over 3 year old fawn female pug. Any information anyone could share would be much appreciated and can be emailed to [email protected]


Our pug Junior passed away from this disease a few years ago. He was about 8 years old when he started showing symptoms. Of course at that time we had no idea his symptoms were of PDE. We noticed he started tilting his head a lot, but other than that acted fine. We took him to our vet thinking he may have had an ear infection, and he did, so our vet gave us ear medicine and after a few weeks the head tilts stopped, but came back soon after and the ear medicine didn't help anymore. We then started to notice his eyes beginning to look a bit clouded so we took him to the vet once again and were told he had cataracts. A short time later I let him out to go potty one morning and he missed a step and fell down the stairs and hit his head on the bottom railing of the porch and started seizing. We rushed him to the vet hospital and by that time his seizure had stopped and they gave anti seizure medication. We finally had enough and went to another vet for a second opinion and were told he had PDE. They told us there was nothing that could be done and to just take him home and continue medications. We tried to make him as comfortable as possible at home, but this disease was just too aggressive. He ended up losing control of his back legs, as well as ability to control when he had to potty, and started to drag himself around the house and cried constantly. We decided at that time it would be more humane to put him down. I'm so glad he is out of his misery, but the thing that got me was the fact that even though he was a very sick, he held onto that happy-go-lucky pug attitude. I wish more research was being done on this disease.


My pug Jagger was diagnosed with PDE in May 2015 at the age of 4. A month later Jagger began to seize for almost an hour and was as close to death as he could be. We rushed him into the Veterinary Hospital in Zurich (UZH). When I handed Jagger over I never expected that I would see my sweet boy again. Luckily for us UZH were doing a study on Encephalitis of Unknown Origin in Dogs. UZH They gave Jagger 10 doses of low level radiation over the course of 14 days and 1 year and 3 months later he is still with us and is a happy little pug. He takes a combination of Phenoleptil and Levetiracetam four times daily and has a check up every 3 months.

As is the case we PDE we know it will return at some point. We know that Jagger will not enjoy a full life but he is very happy for now. He goes on walks, plays with his doggy brother (Magnum PI) and REALLY enjoys his food.

When he was diagnosed with PDE I read what I could about the illness and believed Jagger would be gone within 3 months. Our vet like many other vets advised us that we would probably need to put Jagger down within a short time of his diagnosis. Luckily for us we lived near a hospital that had specialist knowledge and they gave us our pug back. If your Pug is diagnosed with PDE make sure you get a referral to a neurologist. If we had not, Jagger would not be here now.

If I can help in any way please feel free to email me at [email protected]


Today I put my pug down because of PDE. She was 4 yrs 5 mos old. Her symptoms started the same time she got into the chicken scratch and eat a whole bunch of. I figured she had an upset stomach and it would take a while to pass all the birdseed. I took her to the vet 4 days later because she was still lethargic, having trouble standing and walking, stating into space and shaking/tremors like she was in pain. We both thought she was still had an upset tummy from the scratch and the x-Ray should a good amount still in there. The vet to bring her in if she if she was still having trouble in a few day. That was a Monday and Wednesday night my husband and both watch her walk off to the side and then basically collapse on her bed. We picked her up and immediately went to the emergency vet thinking she had some neurological episode. The vet didn't think she did because it wasn't a seizure but just her being in pain from her back. We were sent home with anti-inflammatory and pain meds. Friday morning I woke up and she wasn't in her bed when I went downstairs. I found her laying outside the doggy door and couldn't make it in the house. I took her to the vet as soon as I could. While the vet was examine her, the vet told me she thought, like the other vet, that it was her back because of all the symptoms my pug was showing. During the exam, she had a two minute gran-mal seizure. Right then and there the vet said either epilepsy or PDE. I left my pug at the vet and she had another seizure an hour later. I went home and read the symptoms of PDE in this site and saw that my pug had many of the symptoms. The vet called me in the afternoon to give me an update and said she most likely had PDE with rapid onset. Once she told me that, I knew I had to make the hard decision. I still have 5 year old pug at home (no genetic relation) and I pray she doesn't come down with this.


We lost our Stella in a matter of days. It was so sudden And devastating. She was only 7 and no sign of any illness. We were away at my daughters wedding and our wonderful neighbor was watching her and thought she was depressed that we were gone. She even took her to the vet for checkup, X-rays were good and they thought she was just sad but if this continued to bring her back for blood work. She couldn't keep down any food or water. When we picked her up at our neighbor she looked depressed and lethargic and wouldn't walk. I then noticed her pupils looking very small. We right away brought her back to vet and bloodwork indicated failing kidneys and sge was not responding to light. She then had a seizure at the vet. She was declining and was not given a hopeful prognosis. We made the hardest decision ever to put her out of pain. We miss her terribly! She is laid to rest in our backyard and our statue of St. Francis looking over her.


My pug died from this at just one year old in April. If you still have questions feel free to email me... [email protected]


Our 8-year-old pug recently was put down because of complications with PDE. He was diagnosed in 2014 and started having cluster seizures in 2015. The steroids helped him bounce back. In the last month (April 2016) he started having back disk problems then two weeks later diarrhea from the steroid. He was off the steroid for only a week to calm down the tummy issues. About a week ago (May 18, 2016), he had "status seizures" that wouldn't stop which also entailed "focal seizures (in his face). The doctors couldn't stop the seizures after 12 hours of giving him an IV of Valium and Lorezepam. When we went to visit him at the hospital he started having focal and body seizures again. He had been off of Valium for 4 1/2 hours. The plan was to let his brain rest from the seizures. Then once he could handle being off the Valium he could be put on steroids. But that didn't happen. He also started showing other brain damage symptoms such vestibular problems. In the last two years we had spent a ton of money for scans, a spinal tap, hospital stays, ER visits, medications, etc. In the end he appeared to be suffering not only physically from the non-stop seizures but also mentally from confusion. The experience was quite traumatic. And losing him was very painful and difficult to do. But it was probably the most humane as he was crying and struggling. The doctor could NOT promise his quality of life if they could have stopped the seizures even with chemo therapy. And we had say enough was enough. This is a horrible disease that does need more research. The grief is tremendous. I miss my cuddle bug.


My beautiful adorable daughter (pug) had a grand mal seizure on Monday morning and I rushed her to the Vet. They sent me home with liquid Valium and I made an appointment for Kaliki Mae to see the Neurologist. The soonest they could get her in was Thursday morning. On Wednesday night Kaliki Mae had 2 more very violent grand mal seizures at 11:15 pm. I rushed her to the Emergency Vet but unfortunately she was suffering so I had to put her to sleep. They feel it was PDE. Kaliki Mae was 5 years and 4 mos. She was my baby. She passed away on March 17th, 2016. She had never had a seizure before. Within 3 days she was gone. This was so fast. I love her so much. I am heart broken!


I have a 4 yr old female pug.She was diagnosed last April.It has been a scary ,crazy year. She was classic PDE. She had every symptom. Her first Neurologist was older and pretty much gave up of trying to save her after all its a death sentence so i thought. In a crisis i was forced to go to an emergency clinic close by me (other guy was over an hour away) and after getting the seizures under control they recommended their neurologist (a much younger female Dr.) she told me they have had an 80% success rate of remission with a specific chemo therapy.So we desperate for anything!!!!it was 4 doses one every 3 weeks.High doses of Prednisone and seizure meds. This was VERY expensive but sooo worth it! We are off prednisone and no seizures for almost a year. In 3 weeks we will do another spinal tap but The doctor is confident we have beat this!!!!!!!! She is my baby and i still feel like the other shoe could drop at any time but the doctor keeps trying to reassure me things look really good long term.


Jessica, I'd be interested in learning any information you may have learned and or can share with us. We are not sure at this point if thats what it is or not.


Jacob, I am a pharmacy student studying pug encephalitis, I have a few questions for you about your pug if you wouldn't mind emailing me at [email protected]
I have a pug as well and in my studies at school I have found some interesting information that will maybe help us learn more about this horrible disease.


My pug had this. Thank you to the authors of this page. I wanted to know what happened.

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Pug Encephalitis at a glance

  • 1Pug dog encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain tissues
  • 2While the cause is unknown, some research suggests that PDE is hereditary and immune-mediated
  • 3Symptoms include behavioral changes, seizures, disorientation, neck stiffness, depression, and head tilting
  • 4The disease is always fatal, but supportive care may help your Pug live longer
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