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Dog Encephalitis

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Dog encephalitis is a condition where there is inflammation in the brain. To help look out for your dog’s health and well-being, learn more about the common causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Even though encephalitis isn’t a relatively common health issue, it can become a serious one if left untreated.

What Causes Encephalitis in Dogs?

There are two main types of encephalitis causations—infectious and non-infectious. Although infectious causes are not as common, they can include bacteria, viruses (such as distemper, rabies, and parvovirus), fungal (such as histoplasmosis and blastomycosis), and parasitic (such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever) infections. The non-infectious type, which is more common, often has no known cause.

Although the exact cause of a dog’s encephalitis may remain unknown, and any breed can be susceptible to this condition, some dog breeds can have a higher risk. These breeds include, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, Pugs, and German Shorthaired Pointers. Knowing that your pup could have a higher chance of being diagnosed with encephalitis, it’s helpful to be familiar with some of the most common symptoms.

Encephalitis in Dogs: Symptoms

The exact symptoms of encephalitis could vary depending on where inflammation is occurring in the brain. Symptoms may also appear different depending on the precise cause of your dog’s encephalitis. It is also not unusual for symptoms to appear suddenly and progress quickly.

Common symptoms could include:

  • Seizures
  • Circling
  • Fever
  • Vision impairment
  • Signs of pain
  • Depression
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Head tilting
  • Decreased response time
  • Behavior changes

Of course, many of these signs can overlap with those for other health-related issues. However, if you notice any of these behavior or physical changes in your dog, it is best to take them to their veterinarian or emergency animal clinic as soon as possible.


In order to get a clear picture of what is happening, it is necessary to take your dog to professionals so that they can give you a proper diagnosis. Your veterinarian will most likely ask you questions concerning your dog’s recent behavior, what kind of symptoms have been occurring, and for how long. They may also ask about any recent injuries or incidents your dog may have experienced.

After getting all their questions answered, your veterinarian (or veterinary technician) will most likely perform a thorough physical exam where they will closely examine everything from your dog’s ears and teeth to their eyes and coat. There’s a good chance they will also want to listen to your dog’s heart and lungs.

Your veterinary office will probably also request some blood work and a urinalysis. These tests could help discover whether there is an infectious cause of the inflammation. To get another perspective of your dog’s brain and all that is occurring, it is not unheard of to have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scan, which can provide a much more detailed image. Some veterinarians may also want to get a sample of cerebrospinal fluid so that it can be sent to the laboratory for further analysis by an expert.

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Encephalitis in Dogs: Treatment

Just as there are multiple symptoms and causes for encephalitis, the treatment options available may also vary depending on the underlying cause. Initially, for most cases, the first goal will be to reduce the severity of any symptoms that are present. Managing your dog’s condition so that they are stable, not in pain, and more comfortable is an ideal place to start.

As your dog’s entire condition is evaluated, the experts involved may have a better understanding of what type of treatment will work best for your four-legged pal. In some severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary so that your dog can be closely monitored and quickly receive intensive care. Even then, once they have begun treatment, your pup may only need to stay a few nights at the clinic.

A typical course of treatment for encephalitis in canines is some form of medication. The goal of these prescriptions is to decrease brain inflammation and suppress the immune system. If an infection causes your dog’s case of encephalitis, then those antibiotics will be selected to target their specific cause.

When your dog’s condition has improved or they are sent back home with you, it is critical that you continue giving them any medication they have been prescribed. Even if they appear to be back to their normal self and you no longer see any symptoms, the best way to ensure that their medicine is precisely doing what it should is to continue giving it to them. Don’t forget to pay close attention to their dosage, what time of day they should receive their medicine, and if it needs to be given with any food. Although as many dog parents know, medication may need to be hidden inside a treat in order to convince your pup to take it.

Continue to keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior and health, and if anything seems abnormal, don’t hesitate to reach back out to your veterinarian. They may want your dog to come back for another visit, as sometimes they might need another round of medications.


After evaluating your dog’s condition and beginning their treatment, your veterinarian may be able to give you a more thorough prognosis. Most of the time, your dog’s recovery will depend on the cause of their condition and the severity of their symptoms.

With some canines, their condition may be well-controlled within a few months. Others may have complications with their symptoms returning anytime they cease medication. As a result, in some cases, dogs may require medication for a longer period—possibly even for the rest of their lives.

A significant part of a successful recovery plan is to take your dog to their follow-up veterinary appointments. This allows your dog’s condition to be monitored more closely, and treatment can be altered as necessary.

Encephalitis and Meningitis in Canines

Although encephalitis and meningitis are two different health conditions, it’s not unusual for them to appear together. While encephalitis involves inflammation of the brain, meningitis is when the outer membranes (called meninges) surrounding the brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system become inflamed.

Meningitis is not a common canine health condition, but it can be serious. Even though it may seem similar to encephalitis, meningitis symptoms can present themselves differently. However, like encephalitis, it’s crucial that you take your dog to the veterinarian after noticing any unusual signs. By quickly receiving proper treatment, your pup’s outcome could have much better chances.

When this condition affects the brain and the meninges surrounding it, resulting in meningitis and encephalitis coinciding, it can be referred to as meningoencephalitis.

Encephalitis in dogs is a serious condition that could cause life-long symptoms. Although not every dog may return to the health they had before encephalitis, with quick and proper treatment, many cases can be managed to help give your dog a normal, happy, and healthy life once again.

An ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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