Recently a pet owner wrote to me with a question about Beagle Pain Syndrome. It’s a rare disease that strikes Beagle puppies and can cause a host of symptoms that range from neck and muscle pain to paralysis. I wasn’t very familiar with the condition, but it piqued my interest to learn more.
You see, four years ago, my husband and I adopted the most precious Beagle puppy named Olivia and I’ve fallen in love with the breed.
I knew Olivia was prone to IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease) and I watch her like a hawk for symptoms, but knowing she could’ve been predisposed for another health problem sent me on a journey to learn as much as I could about the condition. If you share your life with a Beagle, I hope this information is helpful for you too.
Facts about the disease
The first thing I discovered about Beagle Pain Syndrome is that it’s a puzzling disease that’s hard to diagnose.
It goes by two medical names and one common name. Some vets refer to it as Juvenile Polyarteritis, which according to PetMD, is a disease that causes the arteries and small vessels in the spine, neck and heart to become inflamed. Others call it Steroid Responsive Meningitis arteritis (SRMA) because they believe it’s a form of meningitis.
Beagles get credit for the common name of the condition because they were the first breed diagnosed with it. Researchers now know that Springer spaniels, Boxers and Bernese Mountain dogs are prone to the disorder, as well.
Symptoms of Beagle Pain Syndrome
The condition can happen at any age, but it’s seen most often in Beagle puppies between the age of 4 months to 10 months old.
Dogs can show some or all of these symptoms:
- High fever
- Neck pain
- Stiff neck
- Hunched back
- Trouble raising their head
- Muscles spams in the front legs and neck.
- Muscle weakness
- Decreased appetite
- Refuses to move
- Some dogs can also experience blindness or paralysis in the front, back or all 4 limbs.
How Beagle Pain Syndrome is diagnosed
Because the syndrome has so many symptoms, veterinarians make their diagnosis by ruling out a long laundry list of other illnesses. First they start with diseases like: bacterial meningitis, diskospondylitis (an infection of vertebrae), spinal tumor, Lyme disease and cervical disc disease.
Once that’s done, they go on to test for anemia and infectious diseases. Interestingly enough, many dogs who are ultimately diagnosed with Beagle Pain Syndrome test positive for anemia and an infection. But when dogs with Beagle Pain Syndrome are treated with antibiotics, they don’t show any signs of improvement.
Another strange symptom that makes the condition hard to diagnose is that it seems to come and go. Sometimes dogs are in extreme pain that includes crying and whimpering and other times they act like normal puppies and seem fine.
All of these conflicting characteristics cause veterinarians to consider other conditions before they confirm a diagnosis of Beagle Pain Syndrome.
Treatment of the disease
At first, researchers treated the disease with high doses of the steroid, prednisone. Most patients showed rapid signs of improvement in just a few days and had a complete remission after two weeks. But then Beagle Pain Syndrome made a quirky turn for many dogs. Once they stopped taking the prednisone, they relapsed and had to be hospitalized.
Today dogs with the syndrome are placed on a maintenance dose of prednisone for up to 6 months. Some dogs remain on long-term low doses of steroids even longer.
Dogs are also kept on crate rest while they recover to keep them as pain free as possible and pet owners are told to watch for signs of relapse.
Suspected causes of the disease
The verdict is still out about the cause or causes of Beagle Pain Syndrome.
Most researchers are confident the condition has a genetic component because only a handful of breeds are prone. They also believe the root cause lies in the auto-immune system. And as I explained in the beginning of this article, a third group of veterinarians consider Beagle Pain Syndrome to be a form of meningitis or a disease of the arteries, like Juvenile Polyarteritis.
It’s obvious this is a rare disease that needs a lot more research.