What are Meningitis?
Meningitis in your cat occurs when the meninges become inflamed. The meninges are a membranous covering of the brain and spinal cord that serves as a protective barrier to both. Meningitis refers to the inflammation of this membrane and is therefore a symptom of a number of underlying conditions. The condition often affects older cats or cats with weakened immune systems. This is a critical medical condition in your pet that requires immediate veterinary care.
Symptoms of Meningitis in Cats
While animals do not vocalize or otherwise exhibit signs of pain or sickness the same way humans do, there are many subtle symptoms that may indicate meningitis in your cat. These may include:
- Lack of appetite
After the initial stages of sickness, as meningitis and inflammation progress, the following more severe symptoms may occur
- Stiffness in the neck
- Light sensitivity
- Unsteadiness on feet
- Muscle spasms
- Behavioral changes
- Head tilt
Causes of Meningitis in Cats
While there are a number of underlying causes of meningitis, the most common is infection. Infection can result from a variety of conditions. Common causes of meningitis include:
- Certain fungal infections in cats with already weakened immune systems
- Fungal infections that may cause meningitis include Cryptococcosis, histoplasmosis, and blastomycosis
- A protozoal infection called Toxoplasmosis
- Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
- In rare cases, localized infection in nearby body part (eyes, ears, nose) spreading to the brain
Diagnosis of Meningitis in Cats
In order to diagnose meningitis in your cat, your veterinarian will need to perform a complete physical and neurological exam. At this initial meeting, you should provide your vet with a complete medical and physical history for your cat, including a timeline for onset of symptoms and any escalation of those symptoms. Your vet will then examine your cat for stiffness and will carefully watch their walk or gait to determine whether any telltale symptoms are present.
The most effective methods of diagnosing meningitis will involve blood and urine analysis. A complete blood profile will be run on your cat. This will help determine the presence of any infection and will identify the source and best course of treatment. Increase white blood cells in a blood profile indicate infection. Bacteria or white blood cells may also be present in the urine of cats suffering from infection.
Some veterinarians may order an MRI or CT Scan or your pet’s brain, which will help identify the presence of inflammation. This may also help identify any tumors or bleeding and can also help determine the extent of any damage in severe cases when the disease has progressed.
Finally, your vet may order an analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid in your cat, via a procedure known as a spinal tap. This is perhaps the most accurate method of diagnosing meningitis in your cat. Your cat will need to be anesthetized for this procedure as it involves inserting a needle precisely in order to withdraw fluid from a highly delicate area.
Treatment of Meningitis in Cats
Treatment of meningitis in your cat will depend on the underlying cause of the inflammation. In cases when the immune system has caused an inflammatory response, steroids may be prescribed to counter the symptoms. Long-term steroid use can have serious side effects for your cat and they will need to have regular follow up visits with your vet in order to ensure proper organ function.
If the underlying cause of meningitis is infection, your cat will be treated with one of a number of different antibiotics. The type of antibiotic will depend on what type of organism has caused the infection. While the antibiotics are taking their course, your vet may also choose to prescribe drugs that counter severe meningitis symptoms. These may include drugs that prevent muscle spasms, pain relievers, or other medications that make your cat comfortable. These types of medications may also be prescribed long term if there has been severe and irreversible damage to your cat’s nervous system as a result of prolonged inflammation.
Recovery of Meningitis in Cats
In most cases, prognosis for long-term recovery and quality of life is good in cats with meningitis. Appropriate treatment with a course of antibiotics should clear up underlying infection and reduce inflammation rapidly. As inflammation decreases, your cat’s symptoms will drastically subside.
In severe cases when symptoms occurred for a prolonged length of time, permanent damage may have been inflicted on your cat’s nervous system. Depending on the severity of the damage, many symptoms of nervous system damage can be mitigated with appropriate medications. Some mild symptoms of damage may recede over time or your cat may learn to adapt to altered capabilities.
Overall, your cat’s recovery from meningitis will depend on your adherence to your veterinarian’s medical advice and medication schedule for your cat, and on how quickly you are able to obtain medical treatment for your pet.
Meningitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
So my wife and I adopted a 6 month old male kitten from the shelter. He had all shots and was Spayed/Neutered. He was found under a building and brought to the shelter at 2 months old. He was at the shelter and adopted out to a couple, after two weeks they decided they didn’t want him anymore. Along after that we got him. After one week in the house one would never guess he was brand new to the home. It was as if we had him for ten years. Well one morning we woke up and noticed vomit on the floor. What he vomited that morning was what he ate the night before only expect it was not fully digested. He just layed down on the floor. He mowed and purred but wouldn’t move. We assumed it was an upset tummy and that was it. Well later that night he was still in the same spot. So we brought his food/water/liter close to him. We went to bed and woke up and he still never moved nor touched his food or went to the bathroom. So I watched him stand and his back legs were super unstable, and he looked very weak. As he put his head down into the water bowl he would quickly pick his head back up in discomfort. So I lifted the bowl up to him after watching him attempt this a few times. Once the bowl was lifted he drank the water, did not eat food. He purred and walked back over to this spot on the floor. My wife picked him up and put him on the couch and his left front leg was just straight and he didn’t move it. Well after a few minutes he still never moved his body so we took him to the hospital. They ran tests and said his liver information was off just a little and he had a high count of white blood cells, the encouraged us to let him stay over night to get antibiotics and fluids. Well we wanted to see him before we left. He entered the room by being carried. He only meowed a few times but never moved and his eyes weren’t tracking at all. So they took him back. Around midnight we got a call saying it was most likely meningitis and his condition was much worse. So after a few hours I called back around 3am. They said he was in and out of consciousness, blind, not moving or eating, and he was just getting a little stiff from not moving, the vet explained he would mostly likely not recover and wanted to do one more antibiotic for swelling of the brain. She told me to call back in an hour, so I did. She said he was even worse now and that euthanasia was the best option. She said he was not aware of his surroundings and was not responsive at this point. We had him for one week. He was the coolest little guy ever. His name was rocky.
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my kitten is not an indoor cat. two or three days ago he was scared off by an adult cat. that cat used to scare my kitten frequently and we used to chase her off. but that day he became really scared and stiff and pooped because of being scared on the stairs. i called her but she didnt look up at me. then i saw that she was imbalanced and couldnt walk with his hind legs. and frequently sat down. but i saw no bite marks or injury on his leg. he has a sister but she was healthy that day. after that day my kitten became really weak and lost appetite, he was loosing weight. he was breathing rapidly and kept his mouth open and was sticking its tongue out. that day my other kitten became weak too. they couldnt lift their heads up, couldnt open their eyes etc. after that day he had a seizure, he fell from the stairs, blood came out, as we only take care of it by keeping it outdoor we dont know how he fell or where he hit. but blood was on his mouth and on his hand. then he had frequent seizures that day from today. his pee is yellow and he is moving barely.his sister is better than him but not that okay either. they are only stray cats and not vaccinated, but we love them and used to give them food and played with them. but i really care for them and i hope that i could help them with all i can do for them. please help me. is it meningitis? what is it? is it curable? what should i do. we tried to give them milk with dropper but they wouldnt drink or open their mouth. they are becoming weaker and weaker...please help me. i cannot stand this anymore.
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Could it be possible for my 1.5 year old cat to have meningitis? He started coughing and wheezing, does not want to drink water but he still eats somewhat ok. I noticed that he is acting scared or skiddish to things he normally wouldn't, and seems extremely depressed. A few time I've noticed 1 leg slips out from under him as we walks but he picks it up and keeps walking. Not playing and even responding to us calling his name anymore. I don't think I've heard him meow in a few days either.
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