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Health & Wellness

Hydrocephalus affects certain dog breeds more than others

There’s two types of hydrocephalus in dogs.

Part of being a pet parent is preparing for the what-ifs of your dog’s health. Even though some conditions, like hydrocephalus, which affects a dog’s brain and spinal cord, are super rare — it’s still imperative to be aware of the symptoms and potential outcomes so you can get your pup help as soon as they start showing signs. 

‍What’s hydrocephalus in dogs?

Typically, a healthy amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is found around a dog’s brain and spinal cord. But, hydrocephalus means there’s an increase in CSF, which can interrupt the brain’s normal functions and has the potential to cause permanent brain damage, Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, Fetch’s on-staff vet, says.

Even though it’s an understandably serious condition, Dr. Singler says it’s not too common in dogs. 

What causes hydrocephalus in dogs?

There are two hydrocephalus types: congenital and acquired. Both versions affect certain dog breeds more than others and appear for different reasons. 

Congenital hydrocephalus

This means that a pup was born with hydrocephalus, or the condition developed shortly after birth. According to Dr. Singler, dog breeds, including Chihuahua, Toy Poodle, Pomeranian, Lhasa Apso, Pug, Pekingese, Cairn Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Maltese, Boston Terrier and English Bulldog are most at-risk for developing congenital hydrocephalus.

Acquired hydrocephalus

Dogs who have experienced trauma or were diagnosed with cancer, an infection or other conditions that cause an obstruction in CSF flow are at risk of developing hydrocephalus, no matter their breed or age.

While it won't prevent all cases of hydrocephalus, Dr. Singler recommends staying up to date on recommended vaccinations and keeping toxic substances out of paws' reach.

RELATED: Keeping your puppy safe from parvovirus

Symptoms of hydrocephalus in dogs

Puppies with congenital hydrocephalus typically begin showing symptoms within the first few months of their life. The timing of acquired hydrocephalus symptoms varies based on the underlying condition.

Dogs with hydrocephalus will often have a dome-shaped head with a soft spot but can experience other reactions, too, including: 

  • Decreased alertness
  • Seeming mentally dull
  • Stupor
  • Disorientation
  • Wandering eyes
  • Coordination loss
  • Circling or pacing
  • Impaired vision
  • Seizures

Behavioral changes, like trouble understanding potty training, compulsive behaviors or increased aggression, might also appear when a dog has hydrocephalus.

If the underlying condition of hydrocephalus is a tumor, inflammation or trauma, it could cause pain for a dog, Dr. Singler says. Talk to your veterinarian about pain management, but never give your dog human medication, including TylenolAspirin or Advil (ibuprofen), which are all toxic to pets.

‍What are the treatment options for hydrocephalus in dogs?

Unfortunately, hydrocephalus can’t be cured unless the underlying cause can be completely remedied, Dr. Singler says. Most treatment plans seek to manage the condition by reducing and preventing the development of CSF buildup in the brain.

“Some cases can be managed with medication,” Dr. Singler shares. “If medication isn’t successful, a surgical procedure can be done to place a shunt that continuously drains extra fluid from the brain to another part of the body, such as the abdomen or heart atrium.”

With management, pups with hydrocephalus may still experience neurological issues. The prognosis can be guarded depending on the severity of the condition and at what stage it is diagnosed. 

It’s a serious and life-threatening condition. So, if you spot any hydrocephalus signs in your pup, see your vet right away for diagnosis and treatment.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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