Steroid Responsive Meningitis
By Sharon Yard, President, ASTC
[Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy of information. However, this is not a substitute for prompt veterinary care. Any similarity to other publications is unintentional. Published online at Sealyhealthguard.org, 11/23/10]
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Recently I have heard of two of our Sealyhams in the US that have
been diagnosed with Dog Steroid Responsive Meningitis (DSRM). Since
then I have discussed this with the owners of the two dogs, with experts
on the subject and have done a lot of research myself on this condition.
The cause of Steroid Responsive Meningitis is unknown. This
explains the awkward name currently in use. Some experts think
this is an autoimmune disease in which the body makes antibodies against
the meninges (the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord). This
disease is not caused by a viral or a bacterial infection. It
responds well to the use of corticosteroids, so for now, that name
It is usually necessary to use
corticosteroids daily for a couple of weeks to a month or more to
resolve the initial signs. The goals of treatment are suppression
of the inflammatory process, recovery of functional neurologic abilities,
pain management and seizure prevention or control. Once the
patient seems to be back to normal, the dosage of corticosteroids
can be tapered off, slowly, to try to keep the illness from recurring.
It is not unusual to have to go back to the starting dosage of corticosteroids
if a relapse occurs when the corticosteroid is being reduced, at least
for a short period of time.
Most dogs with this condition can be weaned completely off steroids
after a few months but a few seem to need long term corticosteroid
therapy. It is possible that these patients may have a vasculitis
disorder affecting the central nervous system or something other than
the typical steroid responsive meningitis. The overall prognosis for
this condition is usually good, with most dogs either recovering completely
or at least having manageable disease. Based on the limited
amount known now it does not appear to be genetic.
This is an extremely serious disease which must be caught early if
there is to be any hope of complete recovery. It can strike any breed
of dog, but some breeds seem to be particularly prone to it: beagles,
boxers, German shepherds, Bernese mountain dogs and Nova Scotia duck
tolling retrievers. It strikes young dogs and the symptoms are fever,
stiff neck, hyper-reactivity to touch and reduced mobility due to
marked stiffness. The dog is in excruciating pain and one vet said
it's like the worst headache you've ever had.
DIFFICULT TO DIAGNOSE
The reason I'm writing this article about a disease which has such
a small occurrence in our Sealyhams is that it's very difficult to
Veterinarians who have never seen it before may tend to think the
problem is a strained muscle, a herniated disc or a bacterial infection
and treat it with antibiotics, muscle relaxers and the like. While
this treatment may help somewhat, the meningitis will recur, and in
the meantime while the vet is trying to discover exactly what is ailing
your dog, he is in agony.
If your dog develops symptoms like the above, mention DSRM to your
vet as a possibility. A thorough physical and neurological
examination may be required, also blood tests and X-rays. The only
sure way to learn if your dog has this disease is to perform a spinal
tap, and the only medication that will help relieve his suffering
is a course of corticosteroids.