Treatment and Prevention of Dog Meningitis Why Regular Check-Ups Could Save Your Dogโ€™s Life

A Dog Laying Down On The Floor
expert or vet photo
vet verified PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian DVM

Thumbnail of Cephalexin Oral Suspension

Cephalexin Oral Suspension

{{petcare_price|currency}} Price in Cart w/PetPlus {{petplus_price|currency}} See PetPlus Price in Cart

Meningitis is a neurological disorder that poses serious health problems if not detected and treated early. Learn all about this disease here and how regular visits with your vet can be the difference between life and death for your dog.

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 condition.

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 agent.

Because early intervention can be critical to your dogโ€™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 dogโ€™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.

Supportive Care

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 dogโ€™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 dogโ€™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 dogโ€™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: BeaglesBernese Mountain DogsMaltese, 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

Dog Dementia: How it Affects Aging Dogs
Vestibular Disorder in Dogs
Dealing With Your Dog's Seizures

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.

Was this article helpful?

You May Also Like