Beagle pain syndrome is a rare condition also known as juvenile polyarteritis, steroid responsive meningitis arteritis (SRMA), necrotising vasculitis, polyarteritis syndrome, cortico-responsive meningitis, meningoencephalomyelitis, aseptic suppurative meningitis and sterile purulent meningitis.
This condition was first discovered in the 1980s when a group of beagles was studied; hence the name (although the condition does not exclusively affect this breed). This very painful condition is defined as a simultaneous inflammation of one or more arteries and the small vessels in the spinal cord in the neck and in the heart.
What Causes Beagle Pain Syndrome?
The precise cause of Beagle pain syndrome has still not been established, but it is suspected that the condition is genetic because only some breeds are susceptible, (although a study by the Animal Health Trust in 2010 showed that this is not a simple autosomal recessive disease). Further studies aim to determine whether Beagle pain syndrome is caused by more than one gene, or the interaction between genes and the environment.
Samantha Goldberg, vet at the Animal Health Trust and KC registered Beagle breeder says: “We do know the condition is immune mediated and we do know there are triggers related to the immune system. Some dogs for instance have had kennel cough or a gastrointestinal upset just prior to their bout. And some dogs relapse when they have their first booster.”
What Dogs are Most at Risk?
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
Adolescent examples of the above breeds at the age of 6 to 18 months (although occurrences have been noted between the age range of 4 months to 7 years). The type affecting older dogs is called granulomatous meningo-encephalitis or GME.
In the Boxer, Bernese Mountain Dog and Akita, the disease may occur with immune mediated polyarthritis.
- Pain/stiffness of the neck
- Spinal pain, vocalisation when the dog is picked up
- An usual stance with a lowered head and arched back
- Muscle spasms (especially of the forelimbs and neck)
- Lethargy, reluctance to move
- Reluctance to bark and pain on opening the mouth in puppies
- Occasionally blindness and limb paralysis
Any case of suspected Beagle pain syndrome warrants prompt veterinary intervention as the sooner the condition is diagnosed, the sooner appropriate treatment can commence. Symptoms can come on very quickly and be severe, but in some cases the puppy may just appear off colour, or to be suffering from an injury or infection.
If you own one of the predisposed breeds and any of the symptoms above are displayed no matter how minor, don’t delay in seeking veterinary advice because there have been cases where seizures occur as a result of secondary scarring in the event of a delayed diagnosis.
Diagnosing Beagle Pain Syndrome
The condition is diagnosed by the breed of the dog and presenting signs, followed by blood tests which may show anaemia, a high white blood cell count, hypoalbuminaemia, and alpha2 macroglobulinaemia. Your vet will want to rule out more common conditions with similar symptoms including bacterial meningitis, Lyme disease, inflammation of a vertebral disc, a spinal tumour, and cervical disc disease. Analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid is usually undertaken via placement of a spinal tap. This procedure requires general anaesthesia.
Xrays may be taken, although results are not always conclusive if necrotising vasculitis is present. An MRI scan can be very useful in that it not only gives a good indication as to the severity of the condition in the individual, it can also show brain abnormalities that may not have been evident on CSF analysis. CSF analysis and MRI scanning are expensive, and in some cases where a dog displays typical symptoms of the condition, but finance is a problem, high dose steroid treatment has been started without these diagnostics and the dog’s response monitored for a speedy improvement.
High dose steroid treatment is the first line therapy. Samantha Goldberg’s protocol is to start on 2mg/kg of prednisolone twice daily, and after 5-7 days to slowly start to reduce the dose. Maintenance is 5mg twice weekly for several months. In more severe cases other immunosuppressive agents, such as azathioprine or cytarabine may be used in conjunction with the corticosteroid steroid therapy. The steroid dose requires a very gradual reduction as relapses, or complications such as seizures have been known to occur if the steroid therapy is discontinued too quickly. Some dogs may grow out of the condition but others may need to stay on steroids permanently.
Supportive and appropriate nutrition is sensible in the case of any immune mediated condition.
Steroids can make dogs retain fluid and increase their thirst and hunger. Dogs and puppies with Beagle pain syndrome will require more frequent opportunities to urinate. Care should be taken to ensure that the dog or puppy is satisfied by their food, but not over-fed as this will cause obesity, and may promote overly rapid or uneven growth in a growing animal.