Canine Meningitis: Everything You Need to Know

October 13, 2019
In this article, we'll tell you everything you need to know about canine meningitis.

Meningitis affects dogs in much the same way it does humans. Though it isn’t contagious, canine meningitis can often be fatal. Like many illnesses, early treatment is the key to recovery.

The brain is protected by three layers (or membranes) which are made up of lipid molecules. These membranes are known as the meninges. Acute inflammation of the meninges is known as meningitis.

Canine meningitis often causes severe pain, and can have a serious impact on the nervous system. As such, it’s vital for owners to be able to spot early signs of the disease.

What is canine meningitis?

As we’ve already mentioned, meningitis is the inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the brain. This swelling is usually the result of a systemic infection, which can be either bacterial, viral, or fungal.

A sick puppy at the vet.

Bacterial meningitis is the most common form of the disease, in both dogs and humans. It usually occurs when a bacterial infection reaches the spinal cord and/or brain. Viral and fungal forms of the disease usually develop and manifest in similar ways.

The disease becomes more serious if a secondary inflammation develops. This occurs in conditions such as meningoencephalitis and meningomyelitis.

Meningomyelitis occurs when inflammation of the meninges spreads to the spinal cord. Meningoencephalitis is the name given to the inflammation of both the meninges and the brain.

The majority of animals will also develop one or both of these secondary ailments, often leading to severe neurological issues.

In more advanced cases of canine meningitis, scarring can obstruct the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This fluid circulates nutrients and protects the brain and spinal cord. As such, it must be able to flow freely between the two. If it becomes obstructed, the CSF can build up, causing muscle spasms and even paralysis.

Which dogs can be affected?

Meningitis can affect dogs of all sizes, breeds and ages, but thanks to the nervous system and the brain’s own defense systems, it’s fairly rare.

However, it’s more common in puppies and older dogs. Their immune systems are often weaker, which allows the infection to reach the brain and spinal cord more easily.

Dogs with a weakened immune system or poor diet are more likely to suffer from infections in general, as they are unable to fight off pathogens. This can lead to more serious symptoms and speed up the progression of the disease.

Studies of canine meningitis in adults and puppies have revealed that some breeds are more prone to meningitis than others.  This includes breeds such as Pugs, Beagles, and Bernese Mountain Dogs.

Common symptoms

Meningitis often occurs in dogs that already have some underlying infection. Dogs will often display flu-like symptoms, such as loss of appetite, vomiting, fatigue, and depression.

Bacterial, fungal, and viral meningitis usually cause similar, degenerative symptoms. This means that the animal will experience a gradual decline in neurological function. These are the signs to look for

  • Changes in behavior.
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Unable to recognize commands (including their own name)
  • Seizures

Treatment

The treatment for canine meningitis depends on the route cause of the disease. A vet will prescribe antibiotics for the bacterial strain of the disease, and fungicides for fungal meningitis.

The aim of the treatment is to reduce inflammation, before it can cause any long-term damage to the brain or spinal cord.

A vet will use anti-inflammatory corticoids to help fight the swelling. In advanced cases, they will also prescribe anti-epileptic drugs to help prevent seizures.

A sharpei puppy at the vet.

It’s important to remember that a vet is the only person qualified to prescribe the appropriate course of treatment for your pet.

How to prevent canine meningitis

There is no specific way to prevent canine meningitis. A balanced diet and regular exercise are vital for ensuring good health.

Keeping your dog up-to-date with vaccines and treating regularly for parasites are also essential for well-being.