Two weeks ago our 12 month old Golden Retriever, Cooper, was diagnosed with Steroid Responsive Meningitis-Arteritis. Yep, my dog has meningitis 🙁
What were the signs that my dog had Meningitis?
A few months ago Cooper was not himself. He is usually a boisterous dog so it is very noticeable when he is not feeling well. He was moving slower and he wouldn’t bend down to eat his food or drink his water. We took him to the vet. They poked and prodded him. His temperature was normal but his movement was a bit stiff. We did some x-rays and they were all clear. The vet made the decision to give him anti-inflammatories and see how he was the next day. He did tell us that some of these symptoms sounded like it could be meningitis but that meningitis generally comes with a high temperature. He told us if Cooper got worse the next day, to take him to the specialist to test for meningitis. But thankfully the next day, Cooper was back to his crazy self.
About a month and a half later, we noticed the same symptoms had come back. Cooper was totally flat, just sleeping, moving really slowly, not doing his usual big stretches, struggling to yawn, not licking and cleaning his private parts and hesitant to bend down to get his food. We took him to our vet and again, he didn’t have a temperature so our vet suggested we go to see the specialist to get some tests done. This was now the 3rd or 4th time Cooper was unwell in the past few months so we decided that this time we wanted to get to the bottom of it, we needed some answers. We took Cooper to Advanced Vet Care in North Melbourne, it’s a 24 hour emergency vet with some of the best vets. The vet that we saw happened to be a guy who was the year above me at school which has been fantastic! We decided to do as many tests as we could to get to the bottom of it. We did a CT Scan, blood tests and a Spinal Tap. The only way to test for meningitis is with the Spinal Tap which is quite a risky procedure and Cooper had to be put under anaesthetic for this. The poor pup had a full examination.
The same day we got the results back that CT scan was clear, ruling out any spinal or neck injuries and disc problems. The blood tests were clear. So we were still stumped. We had to wait till the next day for the Spinal Tap results but at this stage, Jase and I weren’t sure what we wanted to hear. If the spinal tap came back clear, then we were still at square one, not knowing what was making Coop so unwell, but it would also mean he didn’t have meningitis which would be great. And then on the other hand we kind of wanted it to come back as positive because it would mean we knew what was going on and could treat it.
The results came through the next day at lunchtime and it was positive. The vet explained that it seemed to be quite a mild case considering he wasn’t dramatically deteriorating and didn’t have a fever. The vet explained that a dog with meningitis feels like they are walking around with a very heavy head and an achy body all over. And at this stage the cause of meningitis in dogs is still unknown. Poor Coops!
What is the treatment for meningitis in dogs?
As you can probably tell from the name of this disease, Steroid Responsive Meningitis-Arteritis, dogs generally respond well to steroids. Early diagnosis is essential for a successful outcome. And thankfully our vet had told us that we got it in time as Coop didn’t have the high temperature and he appeared to be quite a mild case. Dogs with a severe case, need a larger dose of steroids and need to take them for up to 6 months. In all cases, you need to hit them hard with the steroids at first and then slowly taper off the drugs. The only problem with giving a dog steroids is that side effects are inevitable; hunger, thirst, bloating, muscle loss. And then there are some worse side effects such as gastrointestinal ulceration. Dogs need to be on a low fat diet otherwise they can develop pancreatitis. But thankfully this disease is treatable.
Will he recover?
Yes, Cooper should make a full recovery. The vet has told us that it could take a full 6 months for Coop to get back to his normal self. So it is a slow process.
Could it come back?
There is a chance that meningitis can come back in dogs. That is why it is so important to listen to the vet’s instructions and slowly reduce the dosage of steroids and not to just stop them.
Where we are at now
It is two weeks after being diagnosed with this disease and each day we see small improvements in Coop. We had one set back a few days after starting the steroids when Cooper went off his food and vomited. We put him on some more medication to help with inflammation on the lining of his insides (I think that’s what the vet said). And we changed his diet to boiled chicken and rice. After that we have had no problems with eating, rather he has turned into a scavenger which is also a side effect of the steroids. We also ended up sending off some extra blood work too that the vet had put aside to make sure it wasn’t bacterial or parasitic meningitis (again, I think those were the terms used). And thankfully the bloods came back all clear, confirming that we were treating the right kind of meningitis.
After just 10 days of being on the steroids, Cooper lost 4kg, he had become extremely depressed and was drinking water like it was running out of fashion and as a result peeing almost every half an hour. The vet explained that even if we fed him 8 meals a day, he would still shed the weight due to the drugs. So we took him for a check up and the vet decided we were ready to half his dosage of steroids. If he got worse, we would put it straight back up but if he improves, we will be able to half the dosage again soon. He was unsure if the depression was a side effect from the drugs or a result of the disease.
It’s now a couple days after reducing the drugs by half and Cooper is definitely less depressed and less lethargic, he has a little spark back and we see that smile on his face a little more often. He is still sleeping lots and is not interested in playing with other dogs. He is actually the best behaved he has ever been. But until he is pulling me to play with other dogs, I know he is still not himself. Considering Coopers progress, our vet thinks we will only need to have him on the drugs for a couple of months and not the full 6 months. So day by day, we watch our little boy get a bit better. And we just can’t wait to get our crazy boisterous pup back.
We will make sure to keep you updated on Coopers progress.
And we would love to hear from anyone else who has had a dog with meningitis…
PS. This article was written in 2013- Cooper is now 8 and he did have one relapse about a year after his first case. But we knew what it was straight away and how to treat it and he has fully recovered.