Encephalitis is an inflammation of the skins covering the brain, which is caused by infection with viruses, bacteria or fungi.
Symptoms of encephalitis develop acutely. The animal appears weak and lethargic. Other common complaints are lack of appetite and fever. In later stages of the disease, consciousness and coordination of movement may become impaired. The animal shows an unsteady gait, sways or collapses. In some cases blindness can occur. If no treatment is initiated, the dog may fall into a coma and die.
Younger dogs and puppies are more commonly infected. Transmission occurs through direct contact with an infected animal or by means of a vector, such as ticks, mosquitoes, rats etc. The greatest hazard is ticks, which serve as a natural reservoir for a vast number of infectious agents. Infection may also be caused by bacteria (i.e., streptococcus), fungi (i.e., cryptococcus) or viruses (i.e., distemper). Encephalitis is more readily seen during warm summer months, as tick bites are frequent around this time of the year.
Diagnosis is based upon clinical history and a thorough clinical examination. Infectious agents may be isolated from cerebrospinal fluid. As this is a time-consuming process, treatment is usually initiated even upon suspicion. In most cases hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy is necessary. A high-end antibiotic or an anti-fungal drug respectively will have to be administered over a longer period of time. Prognosis for recovery depends upon severity of the symptoms and how soon the condition is diagnosed. If blindness and/or a lack of consciousness occurs, prognosis is generally poor.
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from a case of encephalitis, consult a veterinarian immediately. The most effective prophylaxis against the disease is anti-tick treatment. Dogs who often walk through woods or dense scrubs should receive a dose regularly during summertime. Easy-to-use products are available, which can be applied as spot-ons onto the skin and provide protection for a defined period of time. After walks, examine your dog’s coat for ticks in order to remove them before a bite can occur.