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What is Water on the Brain?

Hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, is a condition in which fluid builds up within the cranium and puts abnormal pressure on the brain. This can lead to signs of neurological defects, though your dog may not exhibit any symptoms. The condition most commonly occurs in miniature, toy, and brachycephalic breed dogs, with young puppies developing the associated dome-shaped skull early on.

Water on the brain is a serious medical condition that may be life-threatening if left untreated. Hydrocephalus occurs when cerebrospinal fluid accumulates, exerting pressure on the brain that may lead to neurological defects. The condition often arises due to a congenital defect but may develop later in life as a complication of an underlying cause, such as inflammation.


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Symptoms of Water on the Brain in Dogs

Dogs with hydrocephalus may exhibit neurological symptoms due to the increased pressure on their brains. Clinical signs include:

  • Enlarged, dome-shaped skull
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Blindness
  • Aggression
  • Head pressing
  • Regression in training

Typically, dogs that were born with hydrocephalus show the characteristic domed cranium at a young age, though other clinical signs may not be present or may progress slowly over time.


Hydrocephalus may be congenital or may develop later in a dog’s life. Dogs with congenital hydrocephalus are typically smaller than average and are often the runt of the litter both in physical size and in mental development. Though they may not have any other obvious symptoms, many of these puppies do exhibit an enlarged head. Postnatal hydrocephalus occurs when the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is blocked due to inflammation, a tumor, or trauma.

There are two types of hydrocephalus. Compensatory hydrocephalus arises when CSF production is increased to fill the empty space left by the loss of brain tissue. Obstructive hydrocephalus, which is the more common form found in dogs, is caused by restricted flow of CSF within the ventricles of the brain.

Causes of Water on the Brain in Dogs

Hydrocephalus transpires when an abnormal amount of cerebrospinal fluid accumulates within the cranium, whether due to a congenital defect, a tumor, inflammation, or trauma. An obstruction may occur in an aqueduct and prevent CSF from draining properly, leading to a build-up in the cranium that places undue pressure on the brain. This is most commonly seen in miniature and toy breed dogs, with Chihuahuas being particularly predisposed to the congenital form of the condition. Brachycephalic dogs, such as the English bulldog, are also at a higher risk of developing hydrocephalus.

Diagnosis of Water on the Brain in Dogs

In puppies, an enlarged, dome-shaped head combined with signs of neurological defects are typically enough for the veterinarian to make a presumptive diagnosis of hydrocephalus. When you bring your dog into the veterinarian, you will need to provide a history, including the onset and extent of clinical signs that you have observed. The diagnosis may not need to be confirmed unless the symptoms progress.

Imaging provides a definitive diagnosis by revealing abnormalities in the cerebral ventricular system. An ultrasound can show dilated brain ventricles, though this is only possible in young dogs whose skulls have not yet fully fused. CT scans and MRIs are the general standards for diagnosing neurological conditions and can help determine the extent to which fluid has built up in your dog’s skull. Electroencephalography may also be useful for supporting the diagnosis.

Depending on the results of these scans, additional tests may be necessary to determine the cause of the hydrocephalus.

Treatment of Water on the Brain in Dogs

Treatment for hydrocephalus varies according to the extent of the fluid buildup in your dog’s cranium but is primarily geared towards removing excess cerebrospinal fluid from the cranium. Prior to making any decisions regarding your dog’s treatment, discuss your options with the veterinarian so that you understand the risks and the expected rate of success.

Medical Treatment

If your dog is exhibiting only mild signs associated with hydrocephalus, the veterinarian may recommend symptom management instead of treating the condition itself. Medication can relieve swelling and inflammation, as well as reduce the possibility of seizures. Certain drugs may also decrease the amount of CSF that is being produced, taking some of the pressure away from your dog’s brain.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery may be required in severe cases or if your dog’s symptoms progress. The veterinarian may refer you to a specialist, who will utilize a shunt to redirect CSF and establish a controlled flow of fluids away from the cranium, usually into the abdomen. There is a higher risk of complications with a shunt, though the overall success rate for surgical treatment is good.

Recovery of Water on the Brain in Dogs

If your dog received surgical treatment to address the hydrocephalus, you would need to monitor her closely for signs of infection or other developments. Make sure that your dog has a quiet place to recover in, and prevent him from biting at any incisions. Following both medical and surgical treatment, the veterinarian may wish to reexamine your dog to ensure that he is healing and that clinical signs are not progressing. Be sure to let the veterinarian know if you observe your dog exhibiting new symptoms consistent with hydrocephalus.

The prognosis for hydrocephalus is almost entirely dependent on the underlying cause for the condition and the extent of the fluid buildup and symptoms. The condition may be life-threatening, especially if left untreated for too long, but the prognosis is good in puppies that are treated quickly.

Water on the Brain Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Pembroke Welsh Corgi
4 Weeks
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Preventative Measures Inquiry

I'm in the process of purchasing a Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy from a breeder. This is the dog's second litter. She is now 3 years old. The first litter, at age 2, only one pup was born and she had hydrocephalus. This second litter she had five pups and one of the pups has an obvious cerebral abnormality that appears to have fluid and soft spots in her brain. If not full-fledged hydrocephalus. She is smaller than the others, and slower to respond. Although I have selected another pup, I am curious if there is a risk that she may also have a cerebral abnormality that may not initially appear, but develop in the first year? I haven't been able to find any data on this, and assume no research exists that tracks such litters over time (unfortunately). Since two different fathers were mated to the female; it appears the mother does carry the gene in question. The breeder is being responsible and will cease further breeding with this dog. Now, I simply have lingering questions about health risks about the puppy I'm about to bring home. Any information provided would be appreciated. Cited scientific literature would be GREATLY appreciated (if it exists), haven't been able to find sufficient data. Thank you very much!

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
At 4 weeks, it may be a little early for signs of hydrocephalus to completely show themselves, and it may be better to wait a few more weeks to monitor the pups. Congenital hydrocephalus doesn't typically show up later in life, and is usually apparent early on. http://www.vetstreet.com/care/hydrocephalus-in-cats-and-dogs

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Japanese Chin
7 Months
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

My 7th month old japanese chin is having new neurological symptoms. I thought he hurt himself when he started limping on his back leg and being less playful. He now has no menace response in his right eye, less quick response to stimuli on his left side and sleeps more often. He is very smart and responsive still. The doctor says it may be hydrocephaly, but at 4 months old he was fine. What other possible neurological issues come to mind? I think he still may have actually hurt himself because sometimes he yelps when we pick him up and squish his back left leg a little. I hope he doesn’t have hydrocephaly. His head looks okay, and he certainly isn’t dumb. Also, he often has red (dry?) eyes. Please help me problem-shoot!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
If your Veterinarian suspects that Pockey has hydrocephalus, it may be worth doing some medical management to see if there is an improvement in symptoms; this may include furosemide and omeprazole. Apart from hydrocephalus, other causes may include head trauma, cerebellar disorders, spinal disorders among other causes; further examination and possibly visiting another Veterinarian in your area for a second opinion may be useful. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Teacup maltyse
5 Weeks
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Fluid on the brain

Medication Used


Wat can I do to nurse her back to good health I took her to the vet they told me she has fluid on her brain she is really weak and not really eating I been making her eat and giving her pedilyte diluted wit water

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Hydrocephalus is a frequent finding in small breed (especially teacup breeds) dogs and may turn into lifelong treatment; medical management may include omeprazole, furosemide and a corticosteroid. Surgical management may be attempted with a shunt, but this would be needed to be discussed with your Veterinarian; there are no guarantees with treatment and prognosis is guarded. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.cliniciansbrief.com/sites/default/files/attachments/CV_Congenital%20Hydrocephalus.pdf

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Five Years
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms


My Petey is five years old!!! He's a chihuahua he's has a few sings CSF, my my veterinarian knows about it the only problem he's having now he lost vision in his right eye and his seizures,where very mild,he hasn't had any that I know of in almost a year that I know of....other then that's he's a healthy normal little dog he does have temperament issues . My question is without any kind of treatment which I cannot afford how long do you think he has to live ?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations

It is difficult to determine the expected lifespan of a dog with hydrocephalus due to the varying factors including severity, amount of pressure and other damage done. Treatment is usually a surgical shunt which relieves the pressure from the brain. Other options are to try omeprazole (common brand names used in human medicine include Prilosec and Losec) which is an acid reducer for the stomach, but somehow has shown positive results in reducing the production of cerebrospinal fluid. Omeprazole is inexpensive and is worth trying to see if it eases symptoms, this would be something to discuss with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Thank you!! I'll talk to my doctor about this..... but should I start him on this medicine even though he's doing ok?

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