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Encephalitis in Dogs

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When the brain becomes inflamed, this is called encephalitis. The breeds most likely to develop encephalitis are Yorkshire Terriers and various other Terrier breeds, along with Maltese, Chihuahuas, and Pugs. Encephalitis in dogs can progress rapidly and may even be fatal. Because of this, we recommend immediate care if your pet is showing signs of encephalitis.

Encephalitis is one of many conditions our South Florida veterinary neurologists can diagnose and treat. If your pet needs an evaluation, contact us right away.

What Causes encephalitis in dogs?

Encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, has two main causes: infectious and non-infectious. Non-infectious causes are more common, and thought to be due to an overactive immune system (the part of the body that normally protects it from infections). When the immune system is overactive, it can attack normal parts of the body. One example is lupus, in which the body's defense system attacks the internal organs. In dogs with encephalitis, the body's defenses attack the brain. Sometimes the coverings of the brain (meninges) are also affected, and this is called meningitis.

Symptoms of Encephalitis

Clinical signs depend on which area of the brain is affected. Dogs with encephalitis often show the following:

  • Seizures
  • Walking in circles
  • Behavior changes
  • Lack of balance
  • Changes in behavior
  • Stumbling
  • Pain
  • Blindness
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How Do We Diagnose Encephalitis?

First, we always need to do a neurological exam. Since other neurological conditions can cause similar symptoms, we need the exam and additional testing to help us narrow down possible causes.

  • An MRI is the best way to safely look at your dog's brain. This allows us to diagnose encephalitis and/or rule out other possible causes of your dog's symptoms. MRI will also tell us the extent and severity of the inflammation. Finally, it will also tell us if a spinal tap is possible/safe for your pet.
  • A CSF analysis (spinal tap) is often necessary in patients with signs compatible with encephalitis. We only perform a CSF analysis if absolutely necessary.

Finding a Treatment

Encephalitis is a serious condition. Many dogs can do very well with medications, while some will have relapses and will need medications for an extended period of time. Some dogs do not respond to medication at all.

Our goal is to give pets with encephalitis the best chance at a longer life. We use medications to treat the inflammation and overactive immune system. In addition, we will discuss with you in depth the various options for treatment if we diagnose your pet with encephalitis.

See Charlie's story for a better look at how we diagnose and treat encephalitis.

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