Meningitis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Meningitis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Author WDF Staff


Meningitis is a disease that can affect our dogs and us. This is a condition that will affect the protective membranes of the dog’s spinal cord. It will have the same effect on humans if we get infected. If meningitis is left untreated, it can lead to severe complications, like seizures or paralysis. If you are worried about your dog’s health and you suspect it might have meningitis, here are a few things you should know about it, its symptoms, and treatment.

What is meningitis in dogs?

Dog meningitis is similar to human meningitis. It refers to the infection of the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord. These membranes are called meninges, so meningitis, by definition, is - inflammation of the meninges. The good news is that this condition is pretty rare in dogs.

Which dogs can get meningitis?

Theoretically, all dogs can get meningitis. They all have meninges that might get infected, which means all dogs have the potential to get this disease. However, vets noticed some breeds have more meningitis cases than others. Those breeds are;

french bulldog on grass

How can I know if my dog has meningitis?

Most dog owners will not be entirely sure what’s wrong with their dogs. However, they will notice something’s going on. The dog will start exhibiting different unusual behaviors, which is when most dog owners get worried and call their vets. The best way to be sure about the dog’s diagnosis is to get confirmation from your vet. However, you can learn the meningitis symptoms and make an educated guess.

Symptoms of meningitis in dogs

This condition will affect different parts of the dog’s brain or spinal cord, which means symptoms can be slightly different. However, most meningitis cases are accompanied by these symptoms;

  • Fever
  • Neck rigidity
  • Generalized pains

However, if the dog develops meningoencephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain, the symptoms might include neurological issues. Those issues are;

  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Blindness
  • Pacing
  • Circling
  • Depression
  • Loss of consciousness

terrier dog playing outside

What causes meningitis in dogs?

Meningitis can be caused by different things, but it must include infections. Dogs can get meningitis from viral, fungal, bacterial, and protozoal infections. These things can reach the dog’s central nervous system through their inner ear, vertebrae, sinuses, or injuries. Some cases of meningitis in dogs can be caused by an immune-mediated inflammatory response. The immune system will start attacking its own tissue. Some types of roundworms might migrate through the dog’s body and cause the meninges infection.

VET TIP: The most common type of meningitis in dogs is steroid-responsive meningitis. This immune-mediated condition is usually diagnosed during early adulthood.

How do vets diagnose it?

The first thing your vet will start with is an overall examination of your dog. They will look for things that might point them in meningitis’ direction. Things like decreased blood pressure, neck pains, and changes to the optic nerve might be present. After that, most vets order tests that will tell them more about the dog’s overall health condition and help them further determine the exact cause of the dog’s symptoms. Those tests are;

  • Urinalysis
  • Complete blood cell count
  • Serum biochemistry profile

sick vizsla

The most precise and secure way to determine if the dog has meningitis is by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tap test. Your vet will collect a small amount of the CSF fluid by inserting a thin needle between the dog’s neck vertebrae. That fluid will be analyzed, and the vet will look for;

  • Abnormal protein levels
  • Inflammatory cells
  • Infectious organisms
  • Other indicators of disease

After the tests return, the CSF fluid can confirm meningitis and even suggest the cause.

How is meningitis in dogs treated?

The exact treatment of meningitis will entirely depend on the cause. Most cases are pretty severe, and many dogs will require hospitalization and pretty aggressive treatment. In bacterial or protozoic infections, the vet will most likely recommend broad-spectrum antibiotics. After performing CSF culture, the vet can precisely determine bacteria species and adapt the most effective type of antibiotic.

In the case of steroid-responsive meningitis, the most common treatment option is prednisone. This is a corticosteroid, so dosages will be different throughout the treatment. In many cases, this treatment lasts one year.

german shepherd front

Viral meningitis has no cure. Vets mainly focus their efforts on controlling clinical signs and providing supportive care to the infected dog. Supportive care will include IV fluids, pain medications, medications to decrease brain swelling, and nursing care.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis depends on the type. More precisely, on the cause. Corticosteroid-responsive meningitis has a great prognosis, while viral and immune-mediated meningitis have a guarded prognosis. It depends on how well the dog starts responding to treatments in the first couple of days.

World Dog Finder team

World Dog Finder Logo