Meningitis in Dogs


As responsible dog owners, we try to make sure our four-legged friends are protected against the most common diseases like rabies, distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and similar common canine diseases. These diseases are generally protected by immunizations. With even the best of care and precautions, dogs can develop serious diseases that can be life-threatening and are not covered under the annual vaccinations and shots. One disease that comes to mind is meningitis.

What is Meningitis in Dogs?

Meningitis is a serious neurological disease caused by inflammation of the membranes covering the central nervous system. Although meningitis is a serious health condition, it usually does not develop on its own but rather as a secondary complication of an infection that occurred in some other part of the dog’s body.

When the infection spreads to the central nervous system, it causes the membranes to become inflamed, which turns to meningitis. Viral, bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections can all travel to the central nervous system. Some common causes of meningitis include:

  • Rabies
  • Lyme disease
  • Distemper
  • Ear infection
  • Eye infection
  • Sinus infection
  • Injury-based bacterial infection
  • Nasal passage infection
  • Exposure to certain drugs or toxins
  • Inflammation of the vertebral disks caused by infection
  • Vertebral osteomyelitis

What Dogs are Susceptible?

Unfortunately, all dogs are susceptible to meningitis; it is not a disease only found in certain dogs. Young puppies are especially susceptible to meningitis because of their weakened and not-yet-developed immune systems. Adult dogs who have developed infections in other parts of their bodies are more susceptible to meningitis.

Although meningitis is not hereditary, certain breeds appear to be more susceptible to the disease. These breeds include Beagles, Pugs, Maltese and Bernese Mountain Dogs. Why these certain breeds may be more susceptible is still unknown.


The symptoms of meningitis in dogs can be different in each case and in each dog. The symptoms of meningitis are generally determined by these factors.

  • Type of meningitis
  • The intensity of the disease
  • Intensity of the inflammation
  • Parts of the central nervous system that are affected

A dog can still be relatively healthy at the early onset of symptoms but early treatment is always the best option. Dog owners are advised to get their dog to a veterinarian at the first sign of symptoms. It’s important to pay attention to your dog so if the dog does develop any of these symptoms a veterinarian can treat the dog as soon as possible.

The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the earlier the treatment can be started, the more effective the treatment will be and the better prognosis the dog will have. Initial symptoms of canine meningitis may include:

  • Muscle spasms in the neck, back or front legs
  • Back or neck pain
  • Stiffness in the spine indicated by the dog holding its back or neck rigid
  • Head tilting to one side
  • Weakness
  • Unsteady when walking
  • Eyes tracking up and down or from side to side
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure

If the disease has already progressed to a more serious stage, the dog may have these symptoms.

  • Blindness
  • Loss of muscle control or severe unsteadiness
  • Seizures
  • Dullness or stupor
  • Paralysis
  • Abnormal agitation or aggression
  • Confusion or disorientation

Many of the above-mentioned symptoms may arise without there being any damage to the spinal column or the central nervous system.

How to Treat

Treatment for meningitis in dogs can vary depending on the cause of the inflammation and how far the disease has spread and the dog’s overall health other than having meningitis. The main treatments involve relieving pain, suppressing the inflammation, controlling seizures and improving recovery from the neurological issues brought on from the disease.

The first treatment is usually administering steroids to suppress the immune system and decrease inflammation. Steroids play a big part in treatment when an autoimmune disease that caused the dog’s immune system to attack the body’s tissues is what caused the disease. Steroids are also somewhat effective at reducing swelling around the brain.

If the meningitis is infection-related, the vet may use antibiotics to help with the infection. The antibiotics are usually administered intravenously to speed up their effectiveness. Antibiotics are also beneficial in preventing the development of a secondary infection, which is often common when steroids are used to suppress the immune system.

This treatment method may be a long-term treatment. Anti-fungal drugs are given if the cause was a fungal infection. Prior to administering the antibiotics, the veterinarian often must determine which type of infection caused the disease so the appropriate type of antibiotic can be given.

If the dog is unable to drink or eat on its own, intravenous treatments may be given to the dog. Dogs suffering from seizures may be given antiepileptic drugs. Pain medication is often administered to make the dog more comfortable. Regular nursing care and bed rest is a vital part of the treatment and recovery process. This may last for a month or longer.


As far as the prognosis goes, it all depends on the cause of meningitis and how far the disease has advanced. Unfortunately, once the infections get to the central nervous system, the prognosis is not good. Early diagnosis and early and aggressive treatment offer the best prognosis.


Meningitis can be one of a couple of different types. Each of the different types can have different causes but all present similar symptoms in the dog.

  • Regular meningitis causes most of the damage to the central nervous system because it causes inflammation of the meninges, which are membranes that surround and protect the central nervous system. Meningitis can also affect the brain and spine.
  • Meningoencephalitis is similar to regular meningitis but affects the brain and the meninges.
  • Meningomyelitis is also similar to regular meningitis, but this type affects the spinal cord and the meninges.

Meningitis in dogs is rare, but it does happen. When it happens, it can have serious and even fatal effects on the dog. This is the main reason why it’s so important to always acknowledge any unusual symptoms that last more than a couple of days and seek diagnosis and treatment.