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Meningitis In Dogs – Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Meningitis In Dogs

What Is Meningitis In Dogs?

Meningitis refers to an acute inflammation of the outer membranes of connective tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord (known as meninges).

In some cases, the brain may also experience inflammation with a focal accumulation of inflammatory cell infiltrate and this condition is called meningoencephalitis. This is a very serious neurological condition resembling both encephalitis and meningitis or both can happen simultaneously. However, Meningitis and meningoencephalitis are treated as two separate conditions

For centuries, meningeal inflammation besieged people all over the world. The symptoms have been recorded in several ancient manuscripts throughout history. The term 'meningitis' was coined by neurosurgeon John Abercrombie in 1828.

Meningitis has a number of potential causes, including both infectious and non-infectious factors such as cancer/paraneoplastic syndromes, autoimmune disorders and drug reactions. Meningitis can have a diverse clinical presentation depending immune status of the host and age.

Symptoms Of Meningitis In Dogs

Initial symptoms may include the following:

  • Neck or stiffness in the spine or back pain- visible when your dog holding their back or neck rigid
  • Muscle spasms in the forelegs, back or neck
  • Eyes tracking from side to side or up and down
  • Unsteadiness or trouble while walking
  • Fever/depression/ Weakness
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Head tilting/ Pacing or circling

Serious symptoms include the following:

  • Stupor or Dullness
  • Blindness
  • Severe unsteadiness or loss of muscle control
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Abnormal levels of aggression or agitation
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis

Treatment Options For Meningitis In Dogs

Depending on the cause of meningitis (infectious or non-infectious cause), your veterinary neurologist may prescribe:

  • Steroids - To suppress the immune system and inflammation (prednisone)
  • Antibiotics: Antivirals, antifungals, or anti-parasitic medications
  • Antiepileptic drugs: Phenobarbital, Potassium Bromide (if the dog is seizing)
  • Intravenous fluids: For dehydrated dogs
  • Pain medication: NSAIDs
  • Analgesics: Such as opioids
  • Supportive care: Rest and hospital care for dogs as they fight the disease

Home Remedies For Meningitis In Dogs

Follow the appropriate monitoring schedule for your pet given by the Veterinary neurologist, as recommendations may vary for each individual.

Discuss home treatments with your vet to ensure there won’t mess with other medications.

This may include dietary changes, exercise, supplements to administer, and other holistic treatments.

Prevention Of Meningitis In Dogs

  • The bad news is meningitis can be caused by several factors, so it is difficult to prevent it.
  • Now, the good news is, that meningitis is not so common in dogs and there are a few essential ways to help prevent meningitis in dogs.
  • Stick to the basics. Follow the guidelines for preventing infections.
  • Clean thoroughly any and all wounds, keep recommended vaccinations up to date and administer regular parasite preventatives
  • Regularly perform blood, urine, and fecal screenings.

Affected Dog Breeds Of Meningitis

Beagle, Bernese Mountain Dog, German Shorthaired Pointer, Chihuahua, Dachshund, French bulldog, Irish Wolfhound, Papillon, Pekingese, Pug, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Maltese, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Yorkshire Terrier, West Highland White Terrier

Additional Facts For Meningitis In Dogs


  1. Infectious Meningitis:This is caused by viruses, fungi, protozoa, parasites, or bacteria. These are caused by infections that typically begin in some other place in the body, then travel through the bloodstream to the spinal cord and brain.
  1. Non-Infectious Meningitis:Beagle pain syndrome - Juvenile polyarteritis(commonly reported in young beagles). Aseptic meningitis – an overall term used for meningitis with negative cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) bacterial cultures. Pug encephalitis- The medical term is Necrotizing meningoencephalitis. This is a destructive disease with a poor prognosis.
  1. Idiopathic and other meningitis: The underlying cause cannot be determined (idiopathic). Other causes include drug allergies, chemical reactions, inflammatory diseases such as sarcoidosis, and some types of cancer.


Infectious meningitis in dogs:

Canine distemper virus (viral, contagious multisystemic viral disease)

Neosporosis (parasitic infection - Neospora caninum)

Toxoplasmosis (parasitic infection - Toxoplasma gondii)

Baylisascaris procyonis (parasitic- roundworm of raccoons)

Cryptococcus (invasive fungal infection)

Blastomycosis (Blastomyces dermatitidis - yeastlike fungal infection)

Histoplasmosis (Histoplasma capsulatum - fungal infection)

Heartworms (parasitic- Dirofilaria immitis)

Non-infectious causes

Non-infectious meningitis is more prevalent in dogs than infectious meningitis.

Non-infectious meningitis is mostly immune-mediated meningitis.

Steroid-responsive meningitis: AKA arteritis. This autoimmune condition mostly affects leptomeninges and associated arteries.


Risk factors include:

  • Chronic medical disorders (diabetes, renal failure, cystic fibrosis, adrenal insufficiency)
  • Undervaccination/ Old age
  • Immunosuppressed states (congenital immunodeficiencies, iatrogenic, transplant recipients)
  • Dogs in crowded conditions such as shelters, rescue homes, etc
  • Malignancy
  • Splenectomy
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA)
  • Exposures:
    • Travel to endemic areas
    • Vectors (mosquitoes, ticks)


  • Blood tests
  • Ophthalmic (eye) exam
  • Serum biochemistry profile, and urinalysis
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tap
  • MRI and/or CT of the brain


Meningitis is a destructive disease with a high case fatality rate and leads to serious sequelae (long-term complications). Mortality rate increases with age.


Meningitis prognosis depends upon the underlying cause. Infectious and immune-mediated meningitis cases carry a guarded prognosis while Steroid-responsive meningitis typically carries a good prognosis. Early aggressive treatment can have a favorable outcome in all types of meningitis.

When To See A Vet For Meningitis In Dogs?

Emergency — Immediate Veterinary Assistance Needed

  • Severe unsteadiness or loss of muscle control, Confusion or disorientation
  • Abnormal levels of aggression or agitation
  • Seizures

Food Suggestions For Meningitis In Dogs

Anti Meninges diet

Let us try a new anti-meningitis diet for dogs

  1. Elimination phase:

Removal of foods that can cause inflammation

  • Remove foods with additives, refined and processed sugars
  • Trans fats, emulsifiers, thickeners, and food colorings.
  • Artificial sweeteners
  1. Maintenance phase:

Gradually cut out grains, legumes, nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes), and dairy

During the elimination phase, try bland diets to maintain dog metabolism.

Bland diet of one part unseasoned, boiled, boneless, and skinless chicken breast with three parts plain cooked rice.

  1. The reintroduction phase

Reintroduced foods one at a time, allowing for a period of 1 week before reintroducing a different food.

  • Minimally processed meat: Seafood, organ meat, and poultry; meats should be pasture-raised or grass-fed, whenever possible
  • Provide the right fats- Omega-3 fats
  • Colorful non-starchy vegetables and berries
  • Gluten-free diet
  • Soups: Broths, chicken soup/stew, fish stew


For dogs with Infectious and immune-mediated meningitis, the long-term prognosis is generally poor, regardless of treatment. Typically, the dog’s ability to recover from meningitis will depend on the underlying cause, duration it is affected and the response to treatment.

Dogs with steroid-responsive meningitis have a slightly better prognosis, and most of them get well with appropriate treatment.

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