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Meningitis in cats is a relatively rare health condition—you may have never even heard of it before. Though it isn’t too prevalent, meningitis can affect any cat breed and be a serious issue with significant side effects. To help protect your cat, learn more about preventive tips, common symptoms, and treatment options.

What Is Feline Meningitis?

Cats have protective outer membranes that cover their spinal cord, central nervous system, and brain. These membranes are called meninges. Meningitis is when these meninges around the spinal cord become inflamed. If the meninges around the brain, and the brain itself, become inflamed, this is referred to as meningoencephalitis—a similar but different condition from meningitis.

How Do Cats Get Meningitis?

Meningitis in cats can be caused by many factors, including viral, bacterial, fungal, and protozoal infections. Whether the infection begins in the ears, eyes, or sinuses, or it’s caused by a cut, it can travel (even through the bloodstream) to reach the central nervous system.

Parasites, such as roundworms or heartworms, can also lead to your feline friend contracting meningitis—though this isn’t as typical a reason. With cats, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP, viral disease caused by feline coronavirus), cryptococcosis (type of fungal infection), and toxoplasmosis (type of parasite) can also cause meningitis.

Is Meningitis in Cats Contagious to Other Cats?

Meningitis in cats is not contagious to other cats, so there is no need to worry if you have a multi-cat household. However, due to some of the side effects of meningitis, your feline friend may not be quite up for interacting or playing with their other four-pawed siblings. It’s also important that you explain to any young kids in your home that your cat isn’t feeling the best, so they shouldn’t be picking them up or playing rough with them.

Is Meningitis in Cats Contagious to Humans?

Feline meningitis is not contagious to humans, so if your cat is diagnosed, you need not worry.

Meningitis Symptoms in Cats

Since meningitis can have various causes, it comes as no surprise that this condition can also have multiple symptoms. Common ones include:

  • Rigid neck
  • Pain, typically around the neck or back
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Head tilt
  • Unbalanced walking

In the instance that your cat is diagnosed with meningoencephalitis, it’s not uncommon for them to show more serious neurological symptoms. These can include seizures, depression, vision loss, pacing, or paralysis.

Since many of these symptoms can overlap with other feline health issues, and your cat could even display some of these on a day they are a little under the weather, it’s crucial that you keep an eye on and track the timeline of symptoms. For instance, if you notice your feline friend not eating as much for just a day or so and then they are back to normal, they may have just had a little cold. However, if you notice them displaying a symptom such as lethargy, then a few days later decreased appetite, on top of not wanting to play anymore, you can connect these dots and see that in the big picture, something is wrong.

Diagnosing Meningitis

Suppose you begin noticing a change in your cat’s mood or behavior and see some of these mentioned symptoms. In that case, it is recommended that you schedule a visit with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Along with doing a thorough check-up of your pal, blood work, a urinalysis, and X-rays may be ordered. These, along with a possible computed tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are all precautionary measures used to check for any other possible underlying conditions.

In the instance that all of these tests and scans come back clear and other health issues have been ruled out, your veterinarian will most likely want to perform a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis. This procedure involves placing your cat under general anesthesia to get a sample of their CSF, which is located between the vertebrae in their back and neck. This type of test is often the most accurate for diagnosing meningitis.

cat lying on a bed next to teenage girl at home

How To Treat Meningitis in Cats

With meningitis in cats, treatment (of some type) is always recommended. After all, you want your best pal to begin feeling better as soon as possible. Thankfully, there are many treatment options available, though the exact one your cat will receive will most likely be determined based on the cause of their meningitis.

When the underlying cause is a bacterial or protozoal infection, antibiotics are the usual course of treatment. Since infections can react differently to antibiotics, your veterinarian may start your cat on one medication and monitor their progress. Depending on how they respond to their medicine, your veterinarian may switch your cat to another antibiotic that may work better.

Instead of antibiotics, some cases of meningitis will react better to prednisone, a type of steroid. In this course of treatment, cats are usually started on a high dose and slowly weaned off the steroid over time. The exact timeline for treatment will vary between each cat based on their condition. This means that some cats may be tapered off their steroids in a few weeks or months, while others may be on these medications for closer to a year to avoid relapse.

Viral meningitis can be a bit trickier to treat and does not have a known cure. Treatment typically involves intravenous fluids to help avoid dehydration and pain medications so that your cat is comfortable.

Depending on your cat’s symptoms, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory or anti-seizure medication to help manage your pal’s condition. In some instances, it might also be recommended that your cat stays at the animal hospital for a few days. This is usually not a long-term solution but an option to help better understand your cat’s condition and get a handle on some of the symptoms.

Can Cats Recover From Meningitis?

After receiving the news that your cat has this condition, besides learning more about the treatment options, you will most likely want to know the prognosis of meningitis in cats.

There is no one outcome for cats with this condition, and many factors can affect their overall prognosis. First, meningitis can affect any cat breed at any age. As it usually goes, the older a cat is, the more health issues they will have and the more difficult it is for them to recover from illnesses. So, if a one-year-old cat and a fourteen-year-old cat were both to be diagnosed with meningitis, there’s a chance that the younger cat would be much more successful with their treatment.

A cat’s breed may also affect their condition. Particular cat breeds are predisposed to certain health issues, making their recovery from meningitis more difficult or their symptoms more extreme.

On that same note, a cat’s overall health can significantly affect how well they react to treatment. If your feline friend has always received a clean bill of health and is diagnosed with meningitis, they may respond very well to treatment and be back to normal in just a few months. However, if your pal has always had some health issues or has a chronic condition and then, on top of those issues, is diagnosed with meningitis, recovery may be more difficult for them.

It's crucial that you never give your cat human medication—there can be serious consequences. If you believe your cat needs medicine, it’s best to talk with your veterinarian.

Though the hope with meningitis is to diagnose the issue quickly, begin treatment as soon as possible, and have your cat fully recover in just a few months, this isn’t always the case. Unfortunately, some felines may take much longer to recover from meningitis, and in some cases, this condition could shorten your pal’s lifespan, especially if left untreated.

After learning what causes meningitis in cats and the symptoms and treatment options for this condition, many cat parents may wonder if there are steps they can take to help keep their cat healthy and prevent this condition from occurring in the first place.

With there being many various causes of meningitis, there is no single method of prevention, but there are a few precautionary measures pet parents can take. Perhaps the best way is to take care of any infection as soon as possible. Whether it’s an ear infection or one from a cut, it’s crucial that you visit their veterinarian and receive treatment and care instructions. Stopping the infection and allowing your cat to heal properly can help prevent the infection from spreading, reaching the central nervous system, and possibly turning into meningitis.

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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