Hydrocephalus in Dogs: Symptoms and Diagnosis

What is It?

Hydrocephalus is a neurological condition caused by an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid inside the skull. It is commonly referred to as “water on the brain”. This condition increases pressure in the skull and on the brain. This can lead from smaller issues like loss of motor skills to permanent brain damage and death.

What Causes It?

Hydrocephalus can be congenital or acquired. Congenital hydrocephalus is a hereditary condition associated with many toy and small dogs. Brachycephalic dogs are among the most prone to this condition.

Dogs with congenital hydrocephalus typically present symptoms before 12 weeks.

Acquired hydrocephalus results from blockages in the spinal column. These blockages can come from swelling, infection, and tumors

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What Are The Symptoms?

  • Dome shaped skull
  • Wide set eyes
  • Seizures
  • Blindness
  • Walking in circles
  • Lack of coordination
  • Bizarre gait
  • Slow growth
  • Difficulty house training
  • Pressing head against walls

Is it Life Threatening?

Yes. It is not always fatal, but the pressure against the brain can cause permanent brain damage and death. Additionally, dogs that have acquired hydrocephalus often have brain tumors. This considerably lessens the likelihood of a positive outcome.

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How is It Diagnosed?

A vet will perform a physical exam of your pup. Typically, visual cues will be obvious enough for a diagnosis. A CT scan or an ultrasound can confirm the diagnosis. If your dog is older, further tests may be administered to ascertain the origin of the spinal leak.

What Are The Treatments?

Depending on the severity of the disease, treatment will either call for medication or surgery. Anti-inflammatories, drugs to decrease the levels of cerebrospinal fluid being produced and corticosteroids will be the first round of treatment for moderate cases.

In more severe cases anti-seizure medications, furosemide, acetazolamide or omeprazole may be added to your dog’s regimen.

One surgical option is placing in a ventriculoperitoneal shunt. When caught early many dogs benefit greatly from this option.

For acquired hydrocephalus cases, veterinarians will likely focus on the underlying cause of the condition.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pup’s condition, please make an appointment with your veterinarian. Or, consult a virtual vet here.