Encephalitis in dogs occurs when there is swelling in an area of the brain, and it is a condition that dogs can develop alongside other diseases but that has separate symptoms. These symptoms include fever, dizziness, changes in personality, and lethargy. One of the telltale signs that something is wrong is a change in the dog's behavior.
Symptoms of encephalitis in dogs largely focus on and around the head because the disease causes an inflammation of the brain. Depending on what area of the brain is inflamed, different outward symptoms manifest themselves. Pressure from a swelling brainstem can impact the dog's ability to perform actions that require balance or coordination. Even walking can be impaired, and the dog can become ungainly and graceless. An affliction in this portion of the brain can also cause tremors throughout the dog's body that can end up resulting in paralysis of a portion of the face or in a distinctive, constant head tilt.
A dog with encephalitis that is causing swelling in the cerebral section of the brain itself often displays different symptoms. The dog can begin to circle restlessly and constantly, or show signs of depression such as a loss of interest in toys, activities, or human companions. In some cases, the encephalitis and swelling in more than one area of the brain can demonstrate multiple symptoms, and can include seizures and even result in the dog lapsing into a coma.
There is a subsection of encephalitis in dogs caused by the consumption of lead, usually in the form of paint. Lead encephalitis also causes swelling in the brain, but often manifests itself first in the outward signs of diarrhea and vomiting. This is most frequently seen in puppies and young dogs who have not been taught not to chew on walls and other items that can contain high levels of lead.
When encephalitis in dogs is caused by a bacterial infection, it is also called meningitis. In this case, the bacteria cause an infection that results in the swelling of the brain, and a dog with this condition often becomes weak and unsteady, symptoms that can be seen when he is simply walking. He can also experience back pain stemming from the pressure building up in his brain, and can become sensitive to having his back touched or may show difficulties lying down or getting comfortable.
If encephalitis is suspected, a veterinarian may carry out blood work in order to determine the possibility of an infection. Typically, the only way to be sure of diagnosis of encephalitis in dogs is to perform a spinal tap. This is a procedure that may hold extra risks for dogs suffering from the condition.