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Encephalitis in Dogs

Encephalitis is a condition of serious concern, with the affected dog requiring immediate medical attention. This DogAppy post has more information to help you provide timely care for your pet.
DogAppy Staff
Encephalitis refers to an inflammation of the brain. The symptoms of encephalitis in dogs reflect the region of the brain under the effect of the disorder. For example, if the forebrain is inflamed, then the noticeable symptoms are seizures, mental depression, blindness, circling, and behavioral changes. Similarly, in case of inflamed brainstem, the observable signs are lack of coordination, tremors, head tilt, and facial paralysis. These dogs may display signs of neurologic abnormalities. These symptoms may arise from a single field or multiple fields, and are described as focal and multifocal respectively.
Encephalitis in dogs can be either acute or chronic. Acute encephalitis mostly affects young dogs while chronic encephalitis is seen mostly among older dogs. The characteristic symptoms of acute encephalitis include a rapid onset of general illness, cough, vomiting, nasal discharge, and loose motions. Neurologic dysfunction may show up either before or after the oncoming of the general sickness. The palpable signs of chronic encephalitis in dogs are often absent or ephemeral. The affected dog may gradually become very sluggish, may suffer from a loss of balance, followed by seizures that may or may not occur.
Causes of Encephalitis in Dogs
Depending on whether the cause of encephalitis is known or not, it is of two types, infectious and idiopathic. When the causative factor is known, it is referred to as infectious encephalitis, whereas if the cause remains unknown, it is known as idiopathic type. Encephalitis is mostly caused by the infection of the brain by organisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and rickettsia.
How is Encephalitis Diagnosed
The veterinarian will perform some diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of encephalitis. These tests include the examination of the dog's nervous system along with his medical history. The vet may perform spinal tap to make an accurate and quick diagnosis. Spinal tap is a diagnostic method in which a small sample of the fluid bathing the brain and spinal cord is extracted for analysis. Magnetic resonance imaging proves to be of great help to make a definite diagnosis as it permits visualization of the construction of the brain.
Treatment for Encephalitis
Unfortunately, if a genetic defect is responsible for the occurrence of encephalitis, no treatment is possible. For other causes, effective medical cure is available. Once a dog is diagnosed with encephalitis and the underlying cause is found to be infection, the veterinarian places the dog on a course of antibiotics. If the dog suffers from recurrent seizures, anticonvulsants such as phenobarbital can be prescribed. To reduce inflammation, medicines containing steroids may be recommended.
The treatment for idiopathic encephalitis involves suppression of the immune system. As you can see, this is contrary to the treatment method for infectious type. Therefore, it is imperative that the exact cause be diagnosed before the treatment begins. It generally involves giving the dog high doses of a steroid called prednisone. The treatment may go on for about 4-7 months. In complex cases, more powerful immunosuppressants may be prescribed. The effect of these medicines are somewhat similar to that of chemotherapy. Hence, regular blood tests are required to rule out toxicity. A Japanese homeopathic product called Kampo is also known to be effective in treating encephalitis in dogs.
If you notice the signs and symptoms of encephalitis in your pet dog, you should take him to a veterinarian as soon as possible. You should administer all the prescribed medications as told by the vet, and also follow all the instructions, directions, and advice given by him. Remember, encephalitis can be completely cured by the medical treatment and your love and support for your canine friend.
Disclaimer: This DogAppy article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for advice from a veterinarian.