What are Aseptic Meningitis?
Aseptic meningitis can strike without warning for no obvious reason at all, causing your dog severe hypersensitivity to touch and a high fever. Many cases include puppies under six months of age and seem to be most prevalent in Bernese Mountain dogs. Some cases of aseptic meningitis can progress to encephalitis, which is the inflammation of the brain that causes similar symptoms but includes headache and possible seizures.
Meningitis is a serious condition in which there is inflammation of the meninges, which are the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain. Veterinary experts believe that aseptic meningitis (steroid responsive meningitis-arteritis) is caused by the immune system, but that has not been proven. This disease usually strikes dogs that are under two years of age and both sexes are equally susceptible. The two main symptoms of aseptic meningitis are neck pain and a high body temperature. Aseptic meningitis can be fatal if not treated right away, so if your pet has neck and back pain and a high fever you should see a veterinary professional immediately.
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Symptoms of Aseptic Meningitis in Dogs
With cases of aseptic meningitis, you will likely notice that your dog has a stiff neck and keeps it hanging down to prevent the pain in the spinal cord. Some other typical symptoms are:
- High body temperature
- Stiff walking and standing
- Painful back and neck (spine)
- Muscle spasms
- Trouble walking
- Headache (with encephalitis)
- Seizures (with encephalitis)
Aseptic meningitis is most often discovered in large or medium sized dogs, but it tends to affect certain breeds and ages more than others. Those affected most often are:
- Between three and 18 months of age
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
Causes of Aseptic Meningitis in Dogs
The cause of aseptic meningitis is most often due to a disease in another part of your dog’s body such as fungal, parasitic, bacterial, protozoan, or viral infection. Some of the most common findings are:
- Ear infection
- Infected bite wounds
- Nasal infection
- Severe allergic reaction
- Sinus infection
Diagnosis of Aseptic Meningitis in Dogs
Bring your dog to the veterinary hospital or clinic if you cannot get an appointment with your own veterinarian right away because aseptic meningitis can be fatal without prompt treatment. If you have your pet’s medical and shot records, it can help if you bring them with you. Tell the veterinarian your dog’s age, weight, breed, and side effects you have noticed. A thorough physical examination will be done, including blood pressure, body temperature, weight, reflexes, breath sounds, oxygen level, pulse and respiration rates. During the physical examination, the veterinarian will do a neurological assessment to check your pet’s neurological system and an eye examination to check the fundus as the back of the eye.
There are two important tests in determining whether your dog has aseptic meningitis, a complete blood count (CBC) and cerebrospinal tap (CSF). The blood count will usually show decreased platelets, increased neutrophils, and high white blood cell count. The spinal tap is done by getting a sample of the spinal fluid with a needle placed in between the vertebrae of the back and will be done while your pet is anesthetized. If your dog has aseptic meningitis, the spinal tap will show a higher than normal amount of proteins and cells but no infections. In addition, a CT (computed tomography) scan, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) will show the inflammation of the tissues that surround the brain and spine (meninges)
Treatment of Aseptic Meningitis in Dogs
The laboratory tests and physical examination will help determine the best course of treatment for your pet. Treating your dog for aseptic meningitis will most often include the usual protocol of medications, observation, and supplemental treatment.
Veterinarians will usually treat aseptic meningitis with prednisone, which is an immunosuppressive drug. The treatment must be continued for one to three months and may have to be tapered off to prevent side effects and relapse. Sometimes, other medications are needed, such as cyclosporine to reduce the chance of infection and help suppress your dog’s immune system.
An overnight stay in the hospital is usually suggested for observation. During this time, the veterinarian will also provide supplemental oxygen, intravenous (IV) fluids, and other medications.
Recovery of Aseptic Meningitis in Dogs
Once your veterinarian lets you take your dog home, be sure to provide a safe and quiet place so your pet can rest. Also, provide plenty of fresh water and a healthy diet and follow the veterinarian’s instructions about the medication and other treatment. You will have to bring your dog back in 7-10 days for a follow-up examination and continue to see the veterinarian until the medication is gone. Your dog can relapse quickly if you do not continue the treatment as prescribed. Prognosis is good if you have caught it early enough and treatment is promptly given.