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Encephalitis/Meningitis

Encephalitis is inflammation of the substance of the brain. Meningitis (inflammation of the substance of the spinal cord) is often part of the same set of clinical signs and symptoms.

SIGNS: Variable presentations are known for encephalitis. Often animals have signs of diffuse neurologic dysfunction. Occasional animals have systemic signs such as fever. Neck pain or diffuse spinal pain is a common sign. Abnormal mentation or seizures are not rare signs. Signs may be rapid or slow in onset. Signs may be chronic and stable or rapidly progressive. Given the wide variety of possible presentations the diagnosis is often made by testing and ruling out other possible causes.

DIAGNOSIS: Abnormal spinal fluid is the definitive test. In many patients other possible diagnoses must be ruled out by imaging (CT-scan, MRI, or myelogram) first before a final diagnosis can be reached. If all else is ruled out the spinal tap often gives a definitive final diagnosis.

TREATMENT: Various drugs are used in the treatment of encephalitis or meningitis depending on the underlying cause. In dogs the common cause of either is an apparent failure of the immune system in which case prednisone and other immunosuppressive drugs are the treatment of choice. Treatment is often very long term (months in most instances). In the instance of bacterial meningitis the treatment of choice is antibiotics for several weeks. The overall success rate for treatment depends on the underlying cause but in today’s world even though the diseases may be life threatening many animals do fare well over time.

Jerry W. Northington, DVM

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