Meningitis in dogs
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Meningitis in dogs

Dogs
Health & Safety

Meningitis is a serious inflammatory condition of the brain that virtually all parents are aware can be a threat to children (and adults) because so much work has gone into making people aware of the symptoms in humans, because early intervention is the key to reducing damage and allowing recovery. However, there is also a strain of canine meningitis too that can be just as serious and dangerous for your dog as it can be for people, and this is something that not all dog owners are aware of.

Meningitis in dogs is thankfully relatively rare-but it is still important for all dog owners to be aware of the basic risk factors for the condition and its early symptoms, in order to ensure a prompt intervention if a problem does arise. In this article we will look at meningitis in dogs in more detail, including how the condition can be caught, how it affects the dog, and the symptoms to look out for. Read on to learn more.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis in dogs leads to an inflammation of the brain or central nervous system of the dog, leading to a range of acute and serious symptoms. Left untreated, the condition can be fatal, and even if treatment is begun promptly, the condition can still lead to serious and long-term damage to the dog’s brain, nervous system and health.

Meningitis can be either viral, fungal or bacterial in nature, but bacterial meningitis is almost universally the condition that is apt to affect dogs.

How do dogs develop meningitis?

Although meningitis in dogs is reasonably rare, there are a variety of different ways in which dogs can catch or develop the condition. A bacterial condition that affects any part of the body but most specifically the ears, eyes, nose or throat can potentially spread and cause infection of the brain and sheathing surrounding the dog’s nerve membranes, and/or the spinal cord.

This means that dogs that have a tendency to suffer from bacterial infections or other minor ills regularly, or that live a very active outdoors lifestyle and so run a higher risk of being scraped or scratched by branches and other objects are potentially more at risk of the condition than others.

However, while the human forms of meningitis are contagious between people, the canine form shows no evidence of being passed from dog to dog with ease, and is not contagious to humans. This means that even other dogs that live with an infected dog should be safe from the condition themselves, and there is no risk to you or your family.

The symptoms of meningitis in dogs

Because meningitis is reasonably uncommon, it can be hard for the average dog owner to assess the condition’s symptoms effectively and recognise the potential seriousness of the condition. Additionally, many of the symptoms of meningitis in dogs are common to other conditions too, and so, do not definitively enable a firm diagnosis. Learning about the main symptoms of the disease and taking your dog to the vet immediately if you have concerns is vital, in order to ensure that the condition is diagnosed promptly if it is present.

Some of the core symptoms of meningitis in dogs include:

  • Hypersensitivity to things like light, sounds and touch.
  • Stiffness in the dog’s joints in general and spine in particular, which may present as being unable to use the spine’s full range of movement.
  • A high fever will almost certainly be present if your dog has meningitis.
  • Lethargy, slow responses and an unwillingness to move around or interact with you.
  • Dizziness and lack of coordination, which may present as stumbling around or even falling over.
  • Vomiting, particularly if this is prolonged or acute and your dog cannot keep anything, often including water, down successfully.
  • Pale mucous membranes in the eyes and mouth.
  • Panting and respiratory distress, which may appear similar to shock, including an uncomfortable and fixed stance, wide eyes, and general discomfort.

If you have any concerns about your dog’s health or symptoms, it is vital to call your vet immediately so that they can advise you of how to proceed. If your vet suspects that your dog might have meningitis, they will tell you to bring your dog into the clinic immediately. Once at the clinic, your vet is likely to run a range of tests including blood and urine panels and of course, a physical examination, before definitively confirming or ruling out the condition.

Can meningitis in dogs be treated?

Successful treatment of meningitis in dogs depends on a prompt diagnosis and beginning treatment immediately, which usually means giving the dog a course of high-level antibiotics to clear the infection itself. Supporting care will also be given to make the dog more comfortable and ease the effects of the condition itself.

Even with prompt, appropriate treatment, meningitis in dogs is still very serious and can unfortunately prove fatal; however, for many dogs, an aggressive treatment regime begun promptly can potentially save their lives.

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