What are Hydrocephalus?
Smaller dogs, especially miniature and toy breeds are more affected by hydrocephalus. Snub nosed breeds such as the Boston Terrier, English Bulldog and Pekingese are at a higher risk. The Chihuahua, Manchester Terrier, Toy Poodle and Yorkshire Terrier are also predisposed to hydrocephalus.
Hydrocephalus in dogs is where there is an excess of cerebrospinal fluid that has leaked inside the dog’s skull. This causes brain swelling and is often referred to as water on the brain. Increased pressure in the skull will press on the brain tissues and can lead to permanent brain damage or cause death.
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Symptoms of Hydrocephalus in Dogs
There are many symptoms of hydrocephalus in dogs for breeders and owners to watch for. Should you notice any of these symptoms, have your dog thoroughly examined by your veterinarian.
- Domed skull
- Wide set eyes
- Erratic or restless behavior
- Bumping into things
- Lack of coordination
- Compulsive circling
- Open fontanel or soft spot on the head
- Standing with legs crossed
- Weak back legs
- Smaller in size than littermates
- Kicking out front legs when walking
- Slow growth
- Difficulty in house training
- Difficulty drinking or eating
Causes of Hydrocephalus in Dogs
Hydrocephalus occurs when there is an abnormal amount of cerebrospinal fluid within the skull. This build-up of fluid within the skull will put pressure on the brain and cause severe problems for your dog. Hydrocephalus can be either congenital or acquired. Hydrocephalus in dogs has two main types with their own causes.
Congenital hydrocephalus is a birth defect. The skull will appear domed or apple shaped and a large open fontanel will be located on the top of the skull. It can be difficult to diagnose congenital hydrocephalus when dogs are very young. There are few obvious symptoms, until the puppy is walking and eating on their own. Not all puppies with large open fontanels will develop hydrocephalus.
Acquired hydrocephalus develops when the cerebrospinal fluid is blocked or altered; possibly by swelling, infection or tumor. Brain tumor is the most common cause of acquired hydrocephalus, but not all cases of acquired hydrocephalus are caused by tumors.
Diagnosis of Hydrocephalus in Dogs
When diagnosing hydrocephalus in young dogs, your veterinarian will look at the clinical symptoms to help determine the severity of the hydrocephalus. Usually, the presence of a large open fontanel and lack of coordination when walking will give your veterinarian an idea of what to look for. An ultrasound evaluation of the fontanel will show dilation of the brain ventricles. A CT scan or MRI scan will determine the exact source of the fluid build up. Tumors or other abnormalities will be seen on the various scans being performed.
Treatment of Hydrocephalus in Dogs
When hydrocephalus is caught in the early stages; treatment is done to reduce the inflammation within the brain tissue or the amount of cerebrospinal fluid being produced. Corticosteroids are commonly used.
Severe cases of hydrocephalus will be treated with corticosteroids, anti-seizure medications, furosemide, acetazolamide or omeprazole as needed and as directed by your veterinarian.
In some instances, surgery to place a ventriculoperitoneal shunt can be performed. This procedure will be performed by some veterinary teaching hospitals or veterinary specialist hospitals. Your veterinarian will refer you to a specialist if this procedure will be performed.
With acquired hydrocephalus, your veterinarian will develop a treatment plan that focuses primarily on the underlying condition causing the hydrocephalus. These treatments can be anything from medication support, surgery or even radiation therapy.
Keep your veterinarian informed of any changes in your dog’s condition. Be sure to follow the instructions on any medications prescribed to your dog for hydrocephalus. If your veterinarian refers you to a specialist, be sure to follow-up with any visits set by either your veterinarian or your veterinary specialist.
Recovery of Hydrocephalus in Dogs
The recovery time will depend on the severity of the hydrocephalus. In extreme cases, supportive care may be the only course of action to keep your dog comfortable.
Puppies with congenital hydrocephalus generally do well, once treatment has begun and if there has not been severe brain damage. Dogs that have been diagnosed with acquired hydrocephalus have varying recovery times and prognoses depending on the underlying cause and the ability to treat the condition.
Discuss your dog’s prognosis and recovery time with your veterinarian. Also discuss any on-going supportive care that may need to be provided throughout the life of your dog.
Hydrocephalus Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
is my dog in pain.the vet said she has an open soft spot on her head that never closed.when she has an episode she has anxiety and can not be still.sleeps a lot one of her back legs are weak but she has bad knees.
Open fontanel in dogs may lead to hydrocephalus in some cases where the extra pressure of the fluid in the skull will lead to pain and motor problems. Treatment is centered around symptomatic therapy and the reduction of cerebral spinal fluid through medical management. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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My dog has only been with me for 3 months. From the beginning she showed signs that were a bit odd for this breed. She is four years old now. Can it be that she has a hydrocephalus from birth on and the symptoms just started now or is it most likely an acquired form of hydrocephalus. If so, is it possible to grand her a long painless life just with medication?
It is possible that the symptoms are due to acquired hydrocephalus, but the cause of the hydrocephalus (trauma, tumours etc…) would determine the treatment, management and prognosis. Symptoms may also be caused by poisoning (long-term), head trauma, liver disease, kidney disease, among other causes; it would be best to visit your Veterinarian for a neurological examination and blood tests. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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Lily has Hydrocephalus, smaller than normal liver,kidneys and spleen according to the CT results..We assume she is 5 yrs old ..I have had her for 2 1/2 yrs.She has what I consider a mild case of Hydro...open soft spot,she does have weak ligaments, low muscle mass and luxated Patellas...She is smart and knows her name, is pee pad trained...I have been to a number of Vets lately trying to find the cause of the Ascities(which was drained last month)..Its not her heart(ruled out by a Cardologist), Its not related to SIADH, which was ruled out(by a Neurologist)..Next stop a Internal Specialist to look at the liver...Is there any way to narrow the cause down?
There are various causes of ascites in dogs and some cases require in depth investigation to the cause; blood tests, ultrasound (mainly of the liver) and biopsy may be used to come to a diagnosis. Liver failure, heart conditions, low blood protein, portal hypertension, leaking urinary bladder (into abdomen), cancer, peritonitis (not a comprehensive list) are all possible causes and need to be considered and ruled out. I assume that blood tests including biochemistry have been performed already but the Internist may retake those tests; I would recommend an ultrasound of the liver to check portal flow. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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