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Brain Inflammation in Dogs

Encephalitis in Dogs

Encephalitis in dogs is characterized by inflammation of the brain, often accompanied by inflammation of the spinal cord (myelitis) and/or the meninges (meningitis), which are the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Certain breeds, such as German short-haired pointers, Maltese, and Yorkshire terriers, have been observed to be predisposed to encephalitis.

Symptoms and Types

Symptoms and types of encephalitis can vary depending on the specific area of the brain affected. Generally, they manifest suddenly and progress rapidly. These symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Behavioral changes, such as depression
  • Reduced responsiveness
  • Head tilt to one side
  • Facial paralysis
  • Uncoordinated movements or circling
  • Different sizes of pupils (anisocoria)
  • Constricted pupils
  • Decreased consciousness, which may deteriorate as the disease advances


  • Idiopathic origins (cause unknown)
  • Immune-mediated disorders
  • Complications following vaccination
  • Viral infections such as canine distemper, rabies, and parvovirus
  • Bacterial infections, both anaerobic and aerobic
  • Fungal infections like aspergillosis, histoplasmosis, and blastomycosis
  • Parasitic infections such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis
  • Presence of foreign bodies


Diagnosing encephalitis in your dog involves providing your veterinarian with a comprehensive history of your pet’s health, including details about the onset and nature of symptoms, and any potential triggering incidents. Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination and may also perform a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count to assess the underlying cause of the encephalitis.

If your dog is suffering from an infection, the complete blood count might reveal an elevated number of white blood cells. Viral infections may result in a decrease in lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, known as lymphopenia. Thrombocytopenia, indicated by an abnormal reduction in platelets, could suggest related complications.

To assess lung involvement and potential complications, your veterinarian may utilize chest X-rays. MRI and CT scans are valuable tools for detailed evaluation of brain involvement. Additionally, your veterinarian might collect a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for laboratory analysis, which is crucial for confirming the diagnosis and assessing the severity of the condition. If culture assays yield inconclusive results, obtaining a brain tissue sample may be necessary, although this procedure is costly.


Treatment for encephalitis in dogs aims to alleviate symptoms like brain edema and seizures while also preventing the disease from advancing further. If the condition is severe, hospitalization and intensive care may be necessary. Dogs suspected of bacterial infections will receive broad-spectrum antibiotics capable of penetrating the brain and spinal cord.

Living and Management

With appropriate treatment and care, symptoms typically improve within a span of two to eight weeks. However, the overall prognosis hinges on the underlying cause of the condition. In certain cases, symptoms may resurface once treatment is halted. In such scenarios, a second round of treatment or long-term therapy may be necessary to safeguard the dog’s life.

Your veterinarian will arrange regular follow-up examinations to assess treatment efficacy and the dog’s health status. They may also suggest dietary adjustments, particularly if the dog experiences frequent vomiting or severe depression.

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