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Hydrocephalus In Dogs – Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Hydrocephalus In Dogs

What Is Hydrocephalus In Dogs?

Hydrocephalus is an uncommon condition where the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid happens in a dog’s cerebral ventricles within the cranial cavity. Commonly referred to as "water on the brain" or “apple head”, this abnormal accumulation puts pressure on the brain and, thus, damages the cerebral cortex by it against the skull’s bones leading to neurological symptoms, which typically start around 6 to 12 weeks.

Often it is considered a congenital disease, which means a dog is born with hydrocephalus, but there are others that can be triggered by intracranial inflammatory disease, Vitamin D deficiency, the parainfluenza virus infection, or swelling in the brain or a brain tumor. In this case, it is called acquired or secondary hydrocephalus in dogs.

In general, toy or small breeds and brachycephalic dog breeds tend to be more susceptible to hydrocephalus due to the confirmation of their heads.

Hydrocephalus has been characterized by the anatomic relationship between the abnormal pressure dif­ferences and the underlying disease process. There are different types of hydrocephalus. External and Internal hydrocephalus refers to in­creased fluid accumulation within the subarachnoid and ventricular spaces, respectively.

Symptoms Of Hydrocephalus In Dogs

Congenital Hydrocephalus:

  • Open fontanelle
  • Convulsions
  • Domed skull, Enlargement of the cranial vault makes the head appear larger.
  • Alterations in behavior.
  • Circling or falling over on one side.
  • Partial or total blindness.
  • Squinting
  • Failure to learn basic commands or housetrain.
  • Lack of coordination

Acquired Hydrocephalus:

Apart from the congenital signs -

  • Head pressing
  • Loss of vision
  • Pacing
  • Listlessness / Restlessness.
  • Seizures

Treatment Options For Hydrocephalus In Dogs

For the developmental conditions that have clinical similarities with Hydrocephalus, Proper diagnosis and treatment should be followed.

When you have come across any of the hydrocephalus characteristics in your dog, contact the vet for an appropriate diagnosis and treatment protocol.

For congenital hydrocephalus dogs: Conservative treatment and Lifestyle changes like a suitable diet and avoiding strenuous exercise may be enough.

Anti-seizure Medications: Omeprazole, Fiurosemide acetazolamide.

Analgesics: Such as opioids.

Supportive Care: Rest and hospital care for dogs as they fight the disease.

For Acquired Hydrocephalus: The treatment plan is based on the underlying condition.

Home Remedies For Hydrocephalus In Dogs

  • For any developmental conditions, monthly wellness examination and yearly veterinary check-up is not something to be missed.
  • Monitor the growth of your pups and look after trouble-making traits and symptoms.

How To Prevent Hydrocephalus In Dogs?

Hydrocephalus pathogenesis is unknown. One thing is certain, Hereditary plays a major role in many breeds and it is better to examine the susceptible dogs before breeding or at least before getting an unknown dog from the shelter/breeder.

Better not skip visits to the vet including yearly once the comprehensive examination.

For idiopathic causes, the reliable ways to prevent the condition are not yet known.

Prevent your dogs from becoming overweight and maintain a healthy weight.

Affected Dog Breeds Of Hydrocephalus

Miniature Dog Breeds, Toy Dog Breeds, Teacup Dog Breeds, Boston Terrier, English Bulldog, Pekingese, Chihuahua, Manchester Terrier, Toy Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Lhasa Apso, Maltese, Pug, Pomeranian

Causes And Types For Hydrocephalus In Dogs

  1. Causes:

Congenital Hydrocephalus:

This birth defect makes the skull looks domed or apple-shaped and has a large open fontanel at the top of the skull. Congenital hydrocephalus is difficult to diagnose in young dogs.

Acquired Hydrocephalus:

  • Viral infections
  • Intracranial inflammatory disease
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Swelling in the brain
  • Brain tumor
  1. Types:

Obstructive (i.e., noncommunicating) Hydro­cephalus: Even when there is occlusion of CSF, it can still flow within the ventricular system rostral to the site of obstruction. Aqueductal stenosis, a narrowing of the aqueduct of Sylvius is one of the most common causes.

Communicating (non-obstructive) Hydrocephalus: This occurs when there is the extraventricular impedance (CSF is blocked after it exits ventricles) to normal CSF circulation due to the thickening of the arachnoid around the base of the brain. Excessive CSF production may also cause Communicating hydrocephalus, but this is rare.

Communicating Hydrocephalus can be subdivided into:

Compensatory Hydrocephalus (i.e., hydrocephalus ex-vacuo): This happens from brain damage is caused by injury or stroke occurs. CSF occupies the space in the cranial cavity that typically would be packed with brain parenchyma as the parenchymal destruction happens secondary to senile atrophy of the brain or ischemic event.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH): Gradual blocking of CSF drainage causes NPH, which consequently causes slow fluid buildup over time.

  1. Mortality:

The untreated hydrocephalus survival rate is poor. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment improve the chances of prognosis. Treatment distinctly improves the prognosis for hydrocephalus not associated with brain tumors.

  1. Diagnosis:
  • History and physical examination.
  • X-rays
  • CT scan or MRI scan
  • Ultrasound of the fontanel
  1. Prognosis:

The prognosis for Hydrocephalus in dogs will depend on the specific case. When veterinary assistance is offered to the dog prior to brain damage, the prognosis will be positive in the long term. However, recovered dogs can be left with sequelae. Many of the recovered dogs will be clumsier and suffer from learning and coordination problems.

Dogs with congenital hydrocephalus cannot be cured the prognosis is poor and many die in puppyhood. For dogs with congenital issues, treatment aims to balance cerebrospinal fluid production and alleviate symptoms.

When To See A Vet For Hydrocephalus In Dogs?

Contact your vet right away, if you notice any of the following:

Food Suggestions For Hydrocephalus In Dogs

  • High-quality protein sources: Chicken, beef, turkey, or lamb.
  • Low-carb dog food: Carrots, green beans, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, beets, cucumber
  • Protein-Lean chicken or turkey breast, lean beef, cooked fish (salmon, tuna).
  • Vitamin A: Spinach, cantaloupe, carrots, and beef liver.
  • Vitamin C: Red bell pepper, strawberries, kiwis, etc.
  • Omega 3 fatty acid foods (salmon, cod, Sardines, Mackerel, halibut, Herring, etc).
  • Dark-green, leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, watercress, salad greens, parsley, etc.


Most ‘hydrocephalus’ dogs cannot live normal lives if they are not identified early and properly treated. Hydrocephalus treatment is always expensive and many owners opt to euthanize the dog.

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