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Beagle Pain Syndrome

Beagle Pain Syndrome was given its name when it was first seen in a colony of research Beagles in the 1980s. Since then, it has been carefully studied and renamed steroid responsive meningitis-arteritis (SRM or SRMA.) It occurs in several breeds but appears most commonly in only a few, including the Beagle. It can be a difficult disease to diagnose accurately as the symptoms can resemble a number of other diseases and definitive tests like MRIs and spinal taps can be very costly and not always an affordable choice for an owner.

Symptoms

Although most dogs will show symptoms in their younger years, SRM can appear at any age from four months to seven or more years. The symptoms tend to be non-specific and can look the same as those for Lyme disease, cervical disk disease, bacterial meningitis, diskospondylitis, and spinal tumors. Testing should be done to eliminate these possibilities before considering SRM.

Dogs with SRM may display any number of different symptoms including a hunched appearance, hypersensitivity to touch, loss of appetite, depression, neck stiffness and pain, muscle spasms, lethargy, and fever. Some Beagles are reluctant to bark or eat large amounts at a time due to pain in the neck and jaw regions. In very rare cases, blindness and paralysis in one or more legs has been reported. The symptoms can be acute or chronic. Some Beagles may develop symptoms for a few days that then resolve themselves only to return at a later date more severely.

What Causes SRM?

SRM is an autoimmune response by the body that leads to inflammation of blood vessels supplying the nervous system in general, most especially the meninges (lining of the brain) and cervical spinal cord (neck.) What triggers this autoimmune response is unknown at this time. Although studies have been conducted, it is currently believed that the mode of inheritance is either controlled by multiple genes or involves an interaction between the environment and the genes. There is a distinct possibility that it is a genetic disease and affected dogs should not be bred.

How Is It Treated?

SRM is not usually responsive to typical anti-inflammatories like meloxicam and carprofen and antibiotics. The treatment of choice is generally an aggressive level of corticosteroids such as prednisone or prednisolone. The levels are quite high initially and gradually decrease over an extended period of time, often lasting several months. Decreasing the dose too soon can make the dog more likely to suffer a relapse. Some dogs will require a permanent dose of steroids for the balance of their lives. In severe cases, immunosuppressant’s like Azathioprine or Cytarabine may be used in conjunction with the steroids.

Corticosteroids can have many side effects including increased appetite (weight gain is not uncommon,) water retention, increased thirst and a corresponding increase in frequency of urination. In addition, the Beagle will be in a great deal of pain that is exasperated by motion and touch, so he needs to be kept quiet and preferably away from the hustle and bustle of a household with young children. This can be accomplished by crating or confining him separately within the home. Bear in mind the increased need to urinate and that accidents may occur if he doesn’t get out frequently enough. The symptoms should subside once the steroids have been eliminated from his system although weight gain may take longer to disappear and may require extra effort on the owner’s behalf.

Studies into the mode of inheritance of SRM and its treatment continue. Unfortunately, some diseases are much more complicated in how they are passed on to their offspring than others.

Photo credit: Claude Valroff/Wikimedia

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).