October 04, 2020 4 min read

What This Is

The technical medical term for Beagle Pain Syndrome is Steroid Responsive Meningitis (SRM)... and despite the name it can develop in breeds other than the Beagle. It was first discovered when research was being done on a group of Beagle dogs in the 80’s and this is why it has its name.
It is a condition that is a combination of meningitis and polyarteritis. It is misdiagnosed quite a bit because the symptoms can vary…one Beagle may show certain signs…and another Beagle with the same issue may show others.

The Symptoms

Here is a list of all of the possible symptoms…Do remember that a Beagle does not need to show all of these to have Beagle Pain Syndrome:
  • Cervical Pain
  • Change in stance, from normal to a more hunched appearance
  • Shaking
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fever
  • Signs that show the dog is having pain in the neck or has a stiff neck (normal movement of the neck is lacking)
  • Muscle spasms (most often occurring in the dog’s legs and/or neck
  • Weakness (The Beagle may be slow to move, may not want to run and play as normal
  • Pain in the jaw (This is often seen as a reluctance to bark or howl…or to eat large amounts of food at one time)
The level of pain varies from dog to dog… Some Beagles will be in so much distress that they whimper in pain from any sort of movement.
Rare Symptoms
  • A small number of dogs that have Beagle Pain Syndrome will experience blindness.
  • A small number of dogs that have Beagle Pain Syndrome will experience paralysis in the legs (front, back or all).

Age of Onset

In the majority of cases, it will begin to develop when the Beagle is between the ages of 4 to 10 months old…However, it has been seen to develop in dogs of any age…in rare cases it may develop in a dog that is in his or her teens. 
When seen in much older dogs, it is often a form of BPS, known as GME (called Granulomatous Meningo-Encephalitis)…and often responds better to treatment. It occurs at the same rate in both males and females.

What Causes This

As of the present time, the exact cause of Beagle Pain Syndrome is not known. Researchers have discovered that it is the body that sends out an immune response, however they do not know what the trigger to that is. When the Beagle’s body sends out that response, it results in a severe inflammation of the blood vessels that are in and around the lining of the brain and the neck. The dog’s body then attacks its own cells.  

How This is Diagnosed

As of this writing, there is no diagnostic test for BPS; it is diagnosed by looking at a dog’s symptoms and ruling out other health conditions including bacterial meningitis, diskospondylitis, spinal tumor, Lyme disease and cervical disc disease. 
Once these have been ruled out, x-rays should be taken and blood analysis should be done to look for anemia, leukocytosis, neutrophilia, hypoalbuminemia, and alpha2 macroglobulinemia. A spinal tap may show certain changes in the number of cells and proteins. Sometimes an MRI will show severe the disease as progressed.

How This is Treated

This can often be cured with high doses of corticosteroids (explaining the term ‘Steroid Responsive Meningitis’). Studies have shown that the best course of treatment is to start off with a rather high dose of prednisolone or prednisone and then wean down after 1 week... with the ending result of 5 mg, twice per week. This is then given for at least 2 months. 
Many Beagles show improvement after just 3 days and a good number have a complete remission after 2 weeks. There are side effects to this type of dosing, including increased hunger and thirst (resulting in excessive urination and weight gain), lethargy, panting and increased risk of infections such as UTI’s and respiratory infections. 
At this point, an evaluation will be done. Some dogs can wean off the medication after the initial 20 days. For others, there will be a need to stay on a low dose indefinitely.
The long-term dosing may vary from as little as 5 mg to as high as 20 mg. For those that do need to stay on corticosteroids, medications to help aid in the suppression of the immune system may be given. Cyclosporine or azathioprine are two that are commonly given for this. 
One of the most important elements is to get the dog on a treatment program as quickly as possible. Once there are good signs of improvement, the steroid doses will be gradually decreased; this is done VERY slowly, because if it is done too rapidly the dog may relapse.
Additional home treatment - When on corticosteroids, a dog will have the urge to drink more water and it is important that owners make sure that fresh, cool water is available at all times. Due to increased urination, it can help to take your dog outside more often than normal to allow him/her to release their bladder. A supportive orthopedic canine bed, along with an assortment of small pillows can help a Beagle experiment with different resting and sleeping positions that may provide some relief. 
Jan Helge Mathisen
Jan Helge Mathisen

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