Encephalitis is the medical term for an inflammation of the brain. Although most people think of infection as the most common cause of encephalitis there are actually many other possibilities to consider. For example certain toxic elements such as lead, certain metabolic malfunctions such as liver disease, certain aberrant migration of a parasitic disease such as roundworm, and certain tumors are all possible causes of encephalitis in addition to the infectious causes such as Lyme disease. Due to the inability of our pets to communicate direct to us it is often necessary to run several test to rule out some of these possible causes. Unfortunately, even if all the tests were run the diagnosis often remains a mystery.
Symptoms of encephalitis can vary in intensity from a mild degree of irritability to full blown seizures. There is usually a low-grade fever; however, the appetite as well as drinking and urinating may remain unchanged. In the most severe cases blindness and stupor can be present and an inability to walk normally. If there is an ongoing disease that is causing the encephalitis the symptoms will get worse over time.
Tests such as blood work, urinalysis, electroencephalogram, spinal tap and CAT scans can all be run to narrow the possible causes of encephalitis and arrive at a working diagnosis. At the same time these tests are being run symptomatic and supportive treatment is usually begun. As is the case with most diseases it takes a variable amount of time to get the results back and for the treatment to benefit the pet so that patience is needed. Some of the test may not be available at your veterinarian’s office and thus referral may also be needed.
Encephalitis is not a common problem but if it does strike it should always be considered a serious one. While some causes are contagious to other dogs or cats most of the time they are not transmissible to man (except for rabies of course). A positive response is always hoped for, unfortunately, for some conditions there is no effective treatment known. For these problems the owners may be forced to consider euthanasia as the merciful course of action to take. Working closely with your veterinarian and/or specialist will give you the best chance of recovery for your pet.