Granulomatous Meningoencephalomyelitis (GME) in Dogs

Dog at vet
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The acronym GME stands for Granulomatous Meningoencephalomyelitis, a disease of the brain and spinal cord. 

Overview of GME in Dogs

The term granulomatous means a chronic inflammation that is characterized by several types of cells, including fibroblasts and immune cells. The term Meningoencephalomyelitis refers to an inflammation of the brain, spinal cord and the membranes that surround them (the meninges) that leads to the formation of granulomas --  immune cells that collect in a ball shape which form when the immune system tries to block off foreign substances. These can be localized, diffused or involve multiple areas.

This disease can affect most breeds of dogs at any age; it is seen most commonly in middle-aged small breeds but can appear between six months and ten years of age. Both sexes can be affected but there is a slightly higher occurrence in females. At this time, the cause (etiology) is unknown.

Clinical Signs of GME

Signs can vary from one dog to another, but may include:

  • ataxia (stumbling, wobbly gait)
  • drowsiness
  • blindness or vision problems
  • behavior changes
  • facial paralysis
  • Weakness of hind limbs (paraparesis)
  • Weakness of all four limbs (tetraparesis)
  • depressed attitude
  • head pressing against objects
  • circling
  • seizures

GME Diagnosis

Your vet will ask you to provide a history of your dog's health including a description of his symptoms and when they began. A physical exam will follow along with a blood count, biochemistry profile and urinalysis.

The typical method for diagnosis is an MRI which can show lesions within the nervous system. Your vet may also take a sample of cerebrospinal fluid which circulates around the brain and spinal cord. While it's not a test that can confirm GME, it can detect inflammation associated with the disease.

Diagnosis is also made by ruling out other diseases since the only way to definitively diagnose this disease is by examining brain or spinal cord tissue under a microscope. However, that's rarely done given the danger of removing a small sample of brain tissue.

Treatment for GME

Often, immediate hospitalization and intensive care are necessary for dogs with severe forms of GME and IV fluid is begun to counteract the body fluid deficits. Long-term steroid therapy with corticosteroids may help alleviate the symptoms long-term. If the disease is localized, radiation therapy may be an option as determined by your vet. Ongoing treatment is also aimed at supportive care including control of seizures and nutritional support.

Disease Prognosis

The prognosis for GME is highly variable and will depend on the form of the disease and where its located. Your vet will likely schedule follow-up exams once or twice per month for neurological testing and to make sure the dog is getting adequate nutrition.

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Please note: this article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.