Meningitis refers to an
inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the
brain and spinal cord. When these membranes become inflamed --
often due to an infection -- it can result in serious health
complications for your dog, including paralysis, seizure, and even death.
For many dogs, their chances of recovery will depend on how
early the condition is diagnosed and treated. Without early
intervention, dog meningitis is often fatal. If you ever see
symptoms of meningitis, take your dog to the vet immediately.
Read on to learn about how to treat and prevent this serious
Treatment for Dog Meningitis
Meningitis can sometimes be difficult to diagnose and diagnosis
often includes a great deal of testing. A CSF (cerebrospinal
fluid) analysis is typically the most accurate and definitive
way of identifying meningitis, though complete blood work,
biochemistry, urinalysis, MRI, ultrasound, x-rays, and tissue
samples may also be ordered to isolate the infectious
Because early intervention can be critical to your dog’s
chances of survival, a veterinarian who suspects that your dog
is suffering from meningitis will often recommend that
treatment is started even before any testing is performed.
If your dog’s meningitis is the result of an infection,
antibiotics that will kill the
infectious agent are often prescribed. This is usually a
long-term treatment, and your veterinarian may administer the
antibiotics intravenously to increase their effectiveness.
Glucocorticoids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation around
the brain and spinal cord. As the name suggests, dogs with
steroid responsive meningitis -- a type of meningitis that
affects the central nervous system as well the walls of the
arteries -- respond particularly well to steroid therapy.
Anticonvulsants or Antiepileptic Drugs
For dogs suffering from seizures as a result of meningitis,
anticonvulsants or antiepileptic drugs may be prescribed.
Dogs with meningitis will require supportive care to manage
their condition. Supportive care can include anything from
fluid therapy in the hospital for dehydration to clean water
and a comfortable place to rest once they return home. Ask your
veterinarian what you can do to support your dog’s recovery --
they may recommend supplements, pain medications, an exercise
regimen, and/or physical therapy.
The prognosis for dogs diagnosed with meningitis can vary. Some
dogs will respond well to treatment, but may need to be on
medications or undergo therapy for the rest of their lives.
Other dogs may succumb to the condition regardless of what
treatment they receive. Early diagnosis and intervention will
give your dog the best chance of survival, so always contact
your veterinarian at the first sign that something is wrong.
Preventing Meningitis in Dogs
Because the causes of meningitis can be so varied, there is no
one way to prevent it. However, regular trips to the veterinarian can allow your
veterinarian to identify a potential cause -- such as an
infection -- before it spreads to your dog’s central nervous
system and causes meningitis. Keeping your dog cleanly groomed
and up to date on their vaccinations can also reduce the chances
of them developing an infection that can cause meningitis. In
general, a dog in good health is less likely to be affected by
the disease, so take care of your pup, and contact your veterinarian if you
ever notice any symptoms of illness.
Causes and Symptoms of Meningitis in Dogs
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
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:
- Nasal passage infection
- Sinus infection
- Bacterial infection from an injury (such as a bite wound)
- Diskospondylitis (inflammation of vertebral disks due to
- Vertebral osteomyelitis (bone infection in the spinal
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,
Symptoms of Meningitis in Dogs
The symptoms of meningitis can vary depending on how ill your
dog is. Common symptoms include:
- Muscle stiffness or spasms (especially in the neck, back,
- Rigid or unsteady walking
- Sensitivity to touch (hyperesthesia)
- Loss of appetite
- Head tilting
- Low blood pressure
In advanced cases, you may see:
- Severe depression
- Paralysis (usually progressive)
- 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.