When your dog develops severe neck pain, the first obvious suspect is a mechanical issue in the spine, such as intervertebral disc disease or trauma. But what if it is not that?
The common causes of neck pain in dogs include:
- congenital malformations
- intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
- degenerative disease
- muscle strain
- inflammatory disease
Further information: Neck and Back Pain in Dogs
Andy is a West Highland White Terrier—bright, active, and energetic with a distinct personality. He always makes the best of every day he gets to enjoy. Until his health challenges began, Andy was in good health.
Andy isn’t well
One morning, Andy woke up sore and stiff. Normally, he’d spring out of bed ready for the day’s adventures. But not this time. Andy didn’t leave his bed and showed no interest in going for his walk. Andy loved his walks. Something was amiss.
When Andy’s dad lifted him out of bed, it became clear Andy was in pain. He hobbled around hunched over. His dad called their veterinarian right away.
Quickly, the veterinarian determined Andy’s neck was painful—he suspected a strained muscle. Andy came home with pain medication, which seemed to be helping at first.
However, over the following days, Andy got worse. His pain returned with a vengeance. His neck was so painful that Andy would scream when his neck was turned a certain way.
Referral to a specialist
Andy got a referral to a university veterinary hospital for further investigation. The university veterinarians performed a battery of tests including CAT scans and spinal tap.
Andy was diagnosed with meningitis.
Meningitis in dogs
Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.
The potential causes of meningitis include infections or immune-mediated inflammatory response. It is even possible for some parasites, such are roundworms or heartworms to be the cause.
In dogs, immune-mediated meningitis is most common.
Further information: Meningitis in Dogs
Neck pain is one of the typical signs of meningitis in dogs. Many other symptoms can look like those of a slipped disc and include:
- hunched posture
- uncoordinated walk
- neurological deficits
- inability to walk
Further information: Recognizing the Signs of Meningitis in Dogs
Andy was diagnosed with immune-mediated, also known as “steroid-responsive” meningitis.” Obviously, the treatment are steroids. Usually, dogs recover with high doses of the medication. Andy responded to the treatment well.
Steroid treatment side effects
Steroids are effective in reducing inflammation. That relief, however, comes at a price. There is a wide range of side effects. The most common side effects are ravenous appetite and excessive thirst.
Often, once their body responds, dogs can be gradually weaned off the medication. Andy, however, has to stay on long dose indefinitely because every time he got off the steroids the inflammation has returned.
His veterinarian determine what the minimum effective dose was and that’s what Andy has to continue to take.
Everything seemed great until Andy became ill again. This time, he lost interest in food and became miserable and lethargic. Could it be that his meningitis struck again?
His veterinarian examined Andy and drew blood for testing. The test results identified what Andy’s problem was; his blood sugar levels were way above normal. Andy had a new problem—diabetes.
Steroids can be effective in treatment of many life-threatening conditions. But they have their dark side. Long-term side effects can include consequences from immune suppression, such as increased susceptibility to infections and poor would healing. In some cases, the ongoing use of steroids can trigger diabetes.
Further information: The Function of Cortisol: What Happens In A Dog’s Body When It Goes Awry?
Typically, the diabetes can be reversed once the steroids are discontinued. But that was not an option for Andy.
Not only that Andy has to remain on the steroids for life, but he also needs to get insulin injections as well.
Between the treatment for his meningitis and insulin injections, Andy is feeling well, and he is as bright and active as he’s always been.
Would trying a different immunosuppressive drug help? They all come with their own set of side effects and the existing combo seems to be working well for Andy.
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: The Big Picture