Beagle Pain Syndrome

A problem unique to Beagles, Beagle pain syndrome is a group of symptoms sharing the common factor of pain.

By: squamosity
BPS is a hereditary condition passed down from Beagle parents. By: squamosity

Beagle pain syndrome (BPS) does exactly what it says. A problem unique to beagles, this is a group of symptoms sharing the common factor of pain.

This hereditary condition can be passed from a male or female with the affected gene to puppies. It is thought that this is an immune-mediated disease, which means the body turns the defenses of its immune system on its own tissue.

If you like TLAs (3-letter abbreviations), then Beagle pain syndrome supplies them in abundance. BPS takes 2 forms:

  1. Microscopic necrotizing vasculitis (MNV), which attacks nerves and blood vessels supplying the brain
  2. Juvenile polyarteritis syndrome (JPS), which affects blood vessels to the organs or the main coronary arteries to the heart

Symptoms

As you might guess, BPS is characterized by pain and discomfort. This is a condition of young Beagles, typically at less than 3 years of age.

The signs can wax and wane, and unfortunately grow more severe with time. In the first stages, the dog may run a fever, and the symptoms are vague such as being off-color and losing his appetite (in itself alarming for Beagles, being fond of food as they are).

Other symptoms include neck pain, which shows itself as the dog holding his head and neck in a rigid position, and reluctance to lower his head. He walks with a stiff gait and is tense when stroked, as if touch causes him pain.

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Causes

BPS is a hereditary condition passed down from parents with the faulty gene to their offspring. This genetic error programs the body to inappropriately attack certain tissues. In the case of BPS, this means the nerves and blood vessels to the brain.

Diagnosis

A young Beagle with neck pain is suggestive of BPS. However, other conditions, such as a slipped disc or meningitis, present similar symptoms. It is important to rule the latter out before starting treatment for BPS or the problem could become inadvertently worse.

Investigation includes blood tests to look for signs of inflammation and to rule out other conditions causing pain. Neck radiographs or an MRI scan can help rule out disc disease and other physical causes of spinal pain.

A cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tap and analysis of the harvested fluid can rule out infectious meningitis and point toward cell types and proteins associated with BPS. If the dog is lame, analysis of joint fluid is invaluable for ruling out infection.

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Treatment

Key to treatment is switching off the immune system’s inappropriate attack. This is achieved with high doses of corticosteroids. However, this also suppresses the body’s ability to fight infection — hence the importance of ruling out the presence of infectious meningitis or arthritis first.

In some cases, additional immunosuppressive drugs, such as azathioprine, are necessary. Even when the condition is well controlled, relapses can happen.

Prevention

Dogs with clinical signs of BPS should not be bred from because of the real risk of passing it onto their offspring. Because signs usually show before 3 years of age, it seems sensible not to breed from Beagles until they reach that age so as to identify affected dogs and prevent them from passing BPS onto the next generation.

References

  • “Systemic necrotizing vasculitis in nine young Beagles.” Scott-Moncrieff, JAVMA, 201: 1553.
  • “Polyarteritis in a Beagle.” Albassam, 1989. JAVMA, 194: 1595.

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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 2, 2015.

Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

View posts by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinarian with nearly 30 years of experience in companion animal practice. Dr. Elliott earned her Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from the University of Glasgow. She was also designated a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Married with 2 grown-up kids, Dr. Elliott has a naughty puggle called Poggle, 3 cats and a bearded dragon.

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