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Meningitis in Dogs

Meningitis is not a common problem in dogs, but it is obviously very distressing if your pet is diagnosed to have this condition. The most common form of meningitis in dogs does not seem to have an infectious cause (aseptic meningitis) and it is not known why it occurs.

Aseptic meningitis seems to mostly affect young large breed dogs. The age range tends to be from around 4 months of age to about 2 years. Beagles, Boxers, Bernese Mountain dogs, Weimaraner, and Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever are most commonly affected, which suggests the possibility of a genetic predisposition.  Other young medium to large breed dogs may also be affected.

Dogs with meningitis may seem depressed and they might not want to move around very much. They often have severe neck pain and do not like to have their head gently moved up and down or side to side. Sometimes they stand with a hunched back and seem to walk very stiffly. Usually when a vet examines them they have all their normal nervous reflexes. These signs may come and go intermittently but if the dog is not treated appropriately problems such as blindness or paralysis may result from this disease.

When presented with a young dog with some or all of these symptoms your vet may need to carry out some tests to confirm the diagnosis. Perhaps one of the most important things to ensure is that their is no infectious cause of meningitis present. Infectious meningitis, although rare is a very serious disease and usually the dog would be very sick. Your vet may need to take X-rays, blood samples and perhaps a sample of spinal fluid to help confirm the diagnosis. Where there is any doubt, prompt referral to a veterinary neurologist, perhaps for tests such as MRI scanning may be necessary.

The treatment for aseptic meningitis involves giving a prolonged course of steroids such as prednisolone. It is necessary to continue a low dose of medication for at least two months following recovery of the patient in order to reduce the likelihood of a relapse. Some dogs may "grow out" of this problem at around two years of age.

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