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Meningitis in dogs is not an overly common health condition, but certain breeds can be more at risk than others. As a dog parent, it’s important to learn the signs of this serious health issue. This will allow you to recognize the problem early on and get your dog the treatment they need faster.

What Is Canine Meningitis?

Dogs have protective outer membranes that cover their spinal cord, central nervous system, and brain. These membranes are called meninges. Meningitis is when the meninges around the spine 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.

Symptoms of Meningitis in Dogs

There are many symptoms of meningitis that can overlap with other common health issues. Even more minor or subtle signs, such as lethargy, can occur on a day when your dog isn’t feeling their best. Since so many of these symptoms can overlap with other conditions, it’s crucial that you keep an eye on your dog and note anytime their behavior shifts or seems abnormal. Sometimes all it takes is noticing just a few different reactions to know that something more is happening.

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That said, meningitis can appear through various symptoms. Common ones include:

  • Fever
  • Stiff neck or movement
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased water intake
  • Generalized pain, typically in the neck or back
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Being reserved, keeping distance from people

If the issue progresses or meningoencephalitis develops, symptoms can become even more severe. Dogs can become unsteady and lose their balance. They could experience seizures or loss of eyesight. Paralysis is a possibility, and even your dog’s behavior can become affected—they can become confused or agitated more easily. In extreme cases, meningitis can shorten your dog’s life expectancy.

What Causes Meningitis in Dogs?

The various causes of this condition often distinguish the different types of meningitis in dogs. For instance, one of the most common causes of meningitis is a bacterial infection. The infection can start anywhere in the body but then migrate to the central nervous system, affecting the meninges.

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Besides bacterial infections, viral, fungal, and protozoal infections, parasites and tick-borne diseases can lead to meningitis, though some aren’t as common causations as others. Though these infections are slightly different from one another, what they all have in common is that they can make their way to the central nervous system or spinal cord and negatively affect the meninges.

How To Test for Meningitis in Dogs

If you notice your dog showing the signs of meningitis, it’s critical that you take them to their veterinarian for a check-up as soon as possible. While at your appointment, be sure to tell your veterinarian or veterinary technician about all the symptoms your dog has had, including any changes in their behavior or mood. If you can recall, it’s additionally helpful if you have a timeline for when you began noticing a difference in your dog.

Your veterinarian will most likely start by running blood work, doing a urinalysis, and a complete physical exam. It’s not unusual for X-rays, an MRI, or a CT scan to be ordered as well. These can all help rule out if there is another underlying health condition that is causing the symptoms to occur. If nothing out of the ordinary is found through these tests, your veterinarian will need to collect a sample of your pup’s cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This procedure requires your dog to be put under anesthesia, but it is the only guaranteed method for properly diagnosing whether your dog has meningitis.

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Is Meningitis in Dogs Curable?

With meningitis in dogs, treatment is highly recommended and often successful, depending on your pup’s prognosis. This means that your pup’s condition may be improved and managed with treatment, but their long-term outcome will be dependent on the cause of their meningitis.

For example, bacterial infections are typically treated with antibiotics, though the type of antibiotic may change over time. Another common form of treatment could include giving your dog steroids, typically prednisone. This method usually involves your dog starting on a higher dose and being tapered to a lower dosage over time. The length of necessary treatment can also be dependent on your dog’s condition. In some cases, treatment lasts only a month or two, but in other instances, treatment might have to continue for a year or more in order to avoid a relapse.

Viral meningitis is generally not as easy to treat and is usually managed through palliative care. Depending on your dog’s symptoms and condition, they may be given intravenous fluids or pain medications.

Common Questions About Canine Meningitis

As a dog parent, understanding as much as you can about your dog’s health condition can empower you as their advocate. This information can be beneficial, from symptoms to keep an eye out for to prevention tips and treatment options.

  • Is meningitis in dogs contagious to other dogs? Thankfully, not only is meningitis a rare condition, but it is also not contagious. This means you do not have to worry about a dog passing this onto your pup or your pup passing it onto another. However, if your dog is diagnosed with meningitis, you may want to keep them away from other dogs until they have begun treatment. With possible symptoms such as loss of balance and heightened agitation, your pup may simply not be in the mood to be around another canine. Plus, since meningitis often causes pain and stiffness in your dog’s neck and back, it’s best that they aren’t around a dog that may try to roughhouse them.
  • Can meningitis in dogs be passed to humans? Canine meningitis cannot be passed from dogs to humans, so there is no need to worry about catching it from your dog.
  • Is meningitis in dogs hereditary? Some dog breeds, such as Pugs, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Beagles, Maltese, and German Shorthaired Pointers, have a higher chance of developing meningitis. Though technically, any dog breed can be diagnosed at any age. While meningitis itself isn’t necessarily a hereditary issue, dogs can inherit immune system disorders, which can cause them to be more likely to develop meningitis.
  • How can you prevent meningitis?

    Since there are quite a few causes of meningitis, there isn’t one solution to completely prevent this condition. Thankfully, there are a handful of precautionary measures dog parents can make to help keep their pup as healthy as possible. Perhaps one of the most significant is keeping an eye on any possible infections your dog has, whether in their ears or from a cut. Knowing the signs of an infection, catching it early, and visiting the veterinarian for treatment in a timely manner can make all the difference. It’s also crucial that you follow any additional instructions for the infection your veterinarian may give you.

    Keeping up with monthly parasite preventives and any necessary vaccinations can also be a wonderful way of keeping your dog’s health a priority. Of course, your pup’s yearly veterinary check-ups are also an ideal way to keep a closer eye on your pet’s health.

Our dogs are more than just pets—they are beloved family members, reliable companions, and cherished best friends. Though the fun part of being a pet parent includes buying cute toys and taking your dog on car rides, the more serious part of caring for a canine is taking care of their health. Even with meningitis, by providing your pup with proper treatment and following your veterinarian’s recommendations, your dog might be able to go back to a normal life without anyone ever knowing they were sick.

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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