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Meningoencephalomyelitis in Cats

By: Dr. John McDonnell

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Meningoencephalomyelitis is a compound word that indicates inflammation of the meninges (coverings of the brain and spinal cord), encephalo (brain tissue itself) and myelo (spinal cord tissue). The '–itis' part of the term simply refers to the inflammation which can be infectious or non-infectious.

The roots of this term can be combined to indicate inflammation of the meninges and brain (meningoencephalitis), meninges and spinal cord (meningomyelitis) or brain and spinal cord (encephalomyelitis).

Meningoencephalomyelitis is an uncommon syndrome but can be seen in any aged animals often with devastating results.

There are numerous potential causes of meningoencephalomyelitis. Infectious causes include viruses, bacteria, fungus or parasites. When a specific cause of meningoencephalomyelitis is not found, it is called idiopathic, which means it has no known cause, although unidentified viral and immune-mediated causes are commonly suspected.

What to Watch For

Symptoms that indicate encephalitis include:

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Disorientation
  • Stupor
  • Seizures
  • Unsteady gait
  • Behavior changes
  • Anorexia
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light)

    Symptoms of meningitis may include:

  • Same as encephalitis
  • Irritability
  • A stiff neck or back

    Symptoms of myelitis may in include:

  • Stumbling
  • Falling
  • Uncoordinated gait
  • Paresis (weak voluntary movement)
  • Paralysis

    If the following symptoms are seen, they may indicate an emergency situation that should be addressed immediately:

  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Altered consciousness such as stupor or inappropriate responses
  • Paralysis


    Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical and neurologic examination and may order some additional tests such as:

  • Complete blood count or hemogram
  • Serum chemistry analysis
  • Urinalysis

    Depending on the results of the individual tests above, other tests may be required and could include:

  • Neuroimaging (CT and/or MRI)
  • Cerebrospinal fluid tap
  • Electroencephalogram
  • Bacterial and viral culture of cerebrospinal fluid
  • Serological testing of the blood


    The general goals of treatment are to provide supportive care and relieve symptoms. Specific treatment is indicated when a cause can be determined. Treatment may include:

  • Anticonvulsants to treat seizures
  • Corticosteroids to reduce brain swelling and inflammation
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce fever and pain
  • Supportive care, such as rest, nutrition and fluids

    Home Care

    If your pet has been diagnosed with meningoencephalomyelitis, follow your veterinarian's treatment recommendation and notify him if any symptoms worsen or emergency symptoms appear. Keep your pet well-rested, warm and well fed following the illness.

    The outcome will vary. Some animals may recover and other may not survive the disease.

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