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Aseptic Meningitis

By: Dr. John McDonnell

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Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, which are three membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. There are many causes of meningitis including viral, bacterial, fungal, and immune mediated.

Aseptic meningitis is believed to be an immune-mediated disease of dogs although the exact cause is unknown. It is most frequently seen in medium to large breed dogs. Aseptic meningitis usually affects dogs younger than two years old with both male and female dogs equally affected.

Other diseases that may mimic this disease include viral, bacterial and fungal meningitis. Brain tumors and hydrocephalus may also show similar signs.

What to Watch For

  • Fever
  • Neck pain

    Clinical signs may wax and wane spontaneously.


    Diagnostic tests are needed in addition to obtaining a complete medical history. The most commonly performed tests include a neurological assessment, laboratory evaluation and cerebrospinal tap (CSF).

  • The CBC may show a high white blood cell count of mainly neutrophils.

  • The CSF tap typically has a very high cell count and protein level but no infectious organisms are seen.


  • Treatment for aseptic meningitis may include treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. The common drug used is prednisone. Side effects from the medications include increased eating, drinking, urinating, and panting.

  • Response to treatment is typically seen within 24 to 48 hours of starting medications.

  • Medications must be given long term; more than four weeks is typical. Medication is generally tapered gradually to alternate days over the course of treatment, usually several months. Relapses may occur during the tapering course. Relapses usually respond to increasing the medication dose.

    Home Care

    If your pet is showing signs of meningitis, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. There is no appropriate home care for this potentially life threatening illness.

    If your veterinarian prescribes a medication, it is important to follow directions unless specifically told to change medication dosage or type.

    Observe your pet closely for any worsening of clinical signs. If you notice any deterioration in your pet's condition, especially during the taper, contact your veterinarian immediately.


    Treatment of aseptic meningitis is successful in the vast majority of animals. Relapses are typically seen if the medications are withdrawn too rapidly. Dogs that relapse will typically respond to treatment with either higher doses of the initial drug or addition of a second drug.

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