Meningitis can be difficult to diagnose. If a veterinarian suspects that a dog has meningitis, she may recommend prophylactic treatment immediately, even before confirmatory diagnostic assessments are performed. The goals of treating canine meningitis are to suppress the inflammatory process, recover functional neurological abilities, relieve and manage pain and prevent or control seizures.
The standard treatment protocol begins with immunosuppressive doses of glucocorticoids (“steroids”), usually administered orally, to reduce swelling and inflammation of and around the brain. The most common form of meningitis in dogs is called “steroid responsive meningitis.” It occurs most frequently in young adult, large-breed dogs. The cause of steroid responsive meningitis is unknown, but the disorder responds positively to oral steroid administration. How well a dog recovers depends upon the severity of the condition and whether it was treated before permanent damage to its body occurred. Dogs suffering seizures from meningitis can also be treated with anticonvulsants.
Other types of meningitis, including bacterial meningitis, are more difficult to treat. In those cases, high doses of antibiotic medications that cross the blood-brain barrier and achieve therapeutic concentrations within the cerebrospinal fluid must be administered in an attempt to kill the organisms causing the condition. Treatment for bacterial meningitis normally is long-term. It also is expensive and can be taxing on both the dog and its owner. If the dog has seizures associated with meningitis, antiepileptic drugs can be used. These also must be managed carefully.
Supportive care is extremely important in the treatment of meningitis. Intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy, nutritional supplementation, comfortable bedding, managed activity, free access to fresh water and appropriate pain medications are normally necessary to manage dogs with advanced cases of meningitis.
Owners of dogs that have been diagnosed with meningitis should have a frank discussion with their dog’s veterinarian about available treatment and management options. In some instances, dogs recovering from meningitis need life-long physical therapy and medical treatment.
The prognosis for dogs with meningitis is variable, and can be guarded depending upon the dog’s response to antibiotic treatment. Some dogs die despite treatment, while others recover completely. Of course, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment can dramatically improve a dog’s chances of successful recovery.