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Beagle Pain Syndrome: Causes, Signs & Care Guide (Vet Answer)

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By Dr. Rachel Ellison

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Dr. Rachel Ellison

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you are just now hearing of Beagle Pain Syndrome for the first time, you might guess that only Beagles can come down with it, right? Well, despite its misleading name, just because you don’t have a Beagle doesn’t mean your dog can’t get this illness. How and why? And what do I do if my dog gets it? Read on to find out more!

Beagle Pain Syndrome first got its moniker because the medical condition was discovered several decades ago in Beagles that were being used for research1. However, now this disease is also known by many other names; the most common updated medical term used by veterinarians is Steroid-Responsive Meningitis-Arteritis (SRMA). Other names can include Aseptic Meningitis, Necrotizing Vasculitis, and Canine Juvenile Polyarteritis Syndrome, among others.

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What Is Beagle Pain Syndrome?

Despite its original name, over time, veterinarians have discovered that this illness can afflict any breed of dog, but that those most likely to be affected are Beagles, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Boxers,2 Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers3, and Wirehaired Pointing Griffons.4 This list may continue to grow as research evolves and more becomes known about this illness. Regardless of the breed affected, typically, Beagle Pain Syndrome originally presents itself sometime in the first two years of an afflicted dog’s life; in fact, most often in the 5- to 18-month range. Males and females are affected equally.

This disease occurs when the dog’s immune system kicks into overdrive and attacks the lining and protection of the central nervous system (CNS), called the meninges, as well as the respective meningeal arteries5. Because the CNS is composed of the brain and spinal cord, the swelling of the meninges and their arteries around these important areas can wreak havoc on the affected dog’s body. Beagle Pain Syndrome can also cause inflammation in other blood vessels in the body, such as those in the heart, kidney, etc.

What Are the Signs of Beagle Pain Syndrome?

This illness can have two forms: an acute (fast-acting, short-term) form or a protracted (chronic, long-term) form. Dogs with the acute form commonly have neck pain7, a head held lower than normal, trouble getting up, a stiff or seemingly painful walk, and may have a fever. They may also be very lethargic and not want to play, all the while acting very painful. Dogs with the less common chronic form8 have had numerous recurring bouts of neck pain9 and symptoms affecting the spinal cord or multiple neurologic areas over long periods of time.10

sick australian shepherd dog lying on the floor
Image Credit: Stéphanie Briand, Pixabay

What Are the Causes of Beagle Pain Syndrome?

While the exact cause of Beagle Pain Syndrome is unknown, it is believed to be an immune-mediated disease because of the positive response to steroid treatment. These steroids help dampen the dog’s misdirected immune response and decrease inflammation. Some breeds, such as those discussed above, may have a suspected genetic predisposition, but as of the present time, there have not been any specific causes or triggers identified to cause this illness. As time goes on, more investigation can hopefully help us to learn more about the underlying cause of this disease and the harmful overactive immune response that it provokes.

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How Do I Care for a Pet With Beagle Pain Syndrome?

The mainstay of treatment is steroids, often at high doses, that may be given for up to several weeks or months at a time. Owners wishing to pursue this treatment should be made aware that steroids can have both short- and long-term negative effects. For example, dogs on steroids are usually hungrier and thirstier than normal, which in turn can cause them to have weight gain as well as needing lots of potty breaks to prevent urinary accidents.

Over time, they may also have a loss of muscle mass and a thinning of their coat. Dogs on steroids can also be more susceptible to an enlargement of the spleen, an ulcer, secondary infections, and long-term could be at a higher risk of contracting Cushing’s disease or diabetes. A small percentage of dogs may not tolerate the medication at all.

a veterinarian checking a sick dog using a stethoscope
Image Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko, Pexels

Due to the long course of higher doses of steroids, a GI protectant may be used to help prevent an ulcer. If your dog does not tolerate the steroid well or if additional medication may be needed to help, immunosuppressive drugs could also be given. For pets that have a high fever, fluid therapy, as well as fever-reducing medications, may be required. The good news is, with a quick diagnosis and once started on medication, most owners report their dog starts to see an improvement within a few short days. Despite the start towards improvement, steroids should not be stopped suddenly, but rather, must be slowly and carefully decreased over a period of time.

If you have a dog diagnosed with this condition, clear communication, as well as regular checkups with your veterinarian, are very important. The duration of treatment is often fine-tuned based on the dog’s response. By knowing if your dog is improving, a veterinarian can determine when medication can be slowly decreased or if other medications need to be added or substituted. Any other additional negative signs or medication side effects you notice should be immediately relayed to your veterinarian.

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What test will my veterinarian need to do to diagnose this disease?

Because there is not a single test that can definitively say that a dog has Beagle Pain Syndrome, a veterinarian will likely use various tools to reach this diagnosis. A detailed history and physical exam are paramount. Bloodwork, urine, and other samples are an essential baseline from which to start, which will allow the veterinarian to rule certain possibilities in or out.

For example, testing for IgA levels (an antibody found in blood and/or cerebrospinal fluid that helps with immune function) is often high in dogs positive for Beagle Pain Syndrome. Additionally, C-reactive protein (a protein made in the liver that shows inflammation in the body) levels can be helpful in providing more evidence.

A cerebrospinal fluid test (the analysis of fluid from a spinal tap) is an important test that can often show specific cell variations present in the fluid that are indicative of the disease as well as whether it’s more likely to be the acute or chronic form. Imaging, such as X-rays, CT, or MRI, can also be helpful to rule out other disease processes, showing signs of inflammation, or revealing other causes of pain or limping, such as disc disease or tumors.

Myelography (an X-ray with contrast medium to detect problems in the spinal cord), may also be done. It is also important to note that additional tests to rule out other disease processes may be recommended by your veterinarian. During the recovery process, your veterinarian may also need to rerun tests, such as the C-reactive protein, to determine whether successful progress is being made.

a sick dog after surgery in vet clinic
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

How will my pet do once they’re diagnosed?

Overall, the prognosis for Beagle Pain Syndrome is good to excellent with younger dogs suffering from the acute form that receive prompt treatment. Sometimes, these dogs will also have relapses that will need to be treated again in the future. Even with such relapses, overall, Beagle Pain Syndrome has a low mortality rate. While death from this condition is rare, it does occur in a very small percentage of cases, usually in dogs that have the chronic, long-term form.

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Beagle Pain Syndrome is a suspected immune-mediated disease affecting all breeds of dogs that can cause concerning signs in a younger dog, such as fever, neck pain, or trouble walking. If you suspect your dog may be suffering from this condition, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure the best possible outcome for your pet.

Featured Image Credit: Jagodka, Shutterstock

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