Hydrocephalus in Dogs

icon April 22, 2024

Hydrocephalus, often referred to as "water on the brain," is a condition that affects both humans and animals, including dogs. In dogs, this neurological disorder can have varying degrees of severity, leading to a range of symptoms that can impact their quality of life. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for hydrocephalus in dogs is crucial for pet owners and veterinarians alike.

hydrocephalus in dogs

What is Hydrocephalus in Dogs?

Hydrocephalus is a condition characterized by an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the cavities of the brain, leading to increased pressure on the brain tissue. CSF is a clear fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, providing cushioning and support to these vital structures.

In dogs, hydrocephalus can be congenital or acquired. Congenital hydrocephalus is present at birth and is often associated with developmental abnormalities in the brain. Acquired hydrocephalus, on the other hand, can develop later in life due to factors such as trauma, infection, or tumors obstructing the flow of CSF.

Certain dog breeds are more predisposed to developing hydrocephalus, with some exhibiting a higher prevalence due to genetic factors.

Breeds commonly associated with hydrocephalus include:




Yorkshire Terriers

Shih Tzus

Lhasa Apsos

Toy and Miniature Poodles

While hydrocephalus can occur in any breed, these breeds are frequently observed to have congenital predispositions to the condition, warranting increased awareness and monitoring by breeders and veterinarians.

What Causes Hydrocephalus in Dogs?

Common four causes of hydrocephalus in dogs include congenital factors, obstructions, infections, and trauma. Here are some details about the four reasons:

1. Congenital Factors:

Congenital hydrocephalus in dogs is often linked to genetic predispositions or developmental abnormalities during fetal growth. Breeds such as Chihuahuas, Maltese, Pugs, and Yorkshire Terriers are among those commonly affected by congenital hydrocephalus.

2. Obstructions:

Blockages within the ventricular system of the brain can impede the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid, leading to hydrocephalus. These obstructions can be caused by tumors, cysts, or inflammation.

3. Infections:

Certain infections, such as canine distemper virus or bacterial meningitis, can cause inflammation of the brain tissue and disrupt the production or absorption of cerebrospinal fluid, contributing to hydrocephalus.

4. Trauma:

Head injuries resulting from accidents or physical trauma can damage the structures responsible for CSF circulation, leading to the development of hydrocephalus.

Is A Puppy with Hydrocephalus In Pain?

Puppies with hydrocephalus may experience discomfort due to increased pressure on the brain, leading to symptoms such as headaches and seizures. While pain levels can vary, proper management and treatment aim to alleviate discomfort and improve the quality of life for affected puppies.

Hydrocephalus In Dogs Symptoms

The symptoms of hydrocephalus in dogs can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the age of onset. Common signs to watch for include:

1. Head Pressing: Dogs may exhibit repetitive head pressing against objects such as walls or furniture, which can indicate discomfort or neurological dysfunction.

2. Changes in Behavior: Hydrocephalus can cause behavioral changes in affected dogs, including lethargy, disorientation, and altered responsiveness to stimuli.

3. Vision Problems: Some dogs with hydrocephalus may experience vision impairment or develop a characteristic "sunsetting" appearance of the eyes due to increased pressure within the skull.

4. Seizures: Seizures are a common complication of hydrocephalus in dogs and can range from mild to severe episodes of convulsions.

5. Gait Abnormalities: Dogs may exhibit difficulties with coordination, balance, and walking due to the compression of brain tissue caused by excess fluid.

6. Enlarged Head: In cases of congenital hydrocephalus, affected puppies may have abnormally large heads and more domed skulls compared to the rest of their body, a condition known as microcephaly.

Stages of Hydrocephalus in Dogs

  • Mild hydrocephalus in dogs may present with subtle symptoms such as occasional head pressing or changes in behavior.

  • Moderate hydrocephalus typically manifests with more pronounced symptoms like frequent seizures or vision impairment.
  • Severe hydrocephalus often leads to significant neurological deficits, including severe seizures, blindness, and difficulty walking.

    The severity of symptoms correlates with the degree of brain tissue compression caused by the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid within the skull.


Diagnosing hydrocephalus in dogs typically involves a combination of clinical evaluation, imaging studies, and cerebrospinal fluid analysis. Veterinarians may use techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans to visualize the structures of the brain and identify abnormalities indicative of hydrocephalus. Additionally, analysis of cerebrospinal fluid obtained through a procedure called a spinal tap can provide valuable information about the composition and pressure of the fluid.

Hydrocephalus In Dogs Treatment

Treatment options for hydrocephalus in dogs aim to reduce the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid and alleviate symptoms associated with increased intracranial pressure. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment may include:

1. Medications: Diuretics or corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce the production of cerebrospinal fluid or decrease inflammation within the brain.

2. Surgical Intervention: In cases where obstructive lesions or fluid buildup are amenable to surgical correction, procedures such as ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement may be performed to divert excess fluid away from the brain and into the abdominal cavity, where it can be absorbed.

3. Symptomatic Management: Supportive care measures, such as seizure control medications, pain management, and physical therapy, may be recommended to improve the quality of life for dogs with hydrocephalus.

4. Lifestyle Modifications: Pet owners may need to make adjustments to their dog's environment and daily routine to accommodate their specific needs, such as providing padded surfaces to prevent injury during episodes of head pressing or ensuring easy access to food and water.

hydrocephalus in dogs

How Much Does It Cost to Treat Hydrocephalus in Dogs?

The cost of treating hydrocephalus in dogs can vary significantly depending on factors such as the severity of the condition, the chosen treatment approach (medical management vs. surgery), and geographic location. Treatment expenses may range from hundreds to several thousand dollars, including diagnostic tests, medications, surgery, and ongoing veterinary care.

Hydrocephalus In Dogs Survival Rate

The survival rate for dogs with hydrocephalus varies widely depending on factors such as the underlying cause, severity of symptoms, and response to treatment. Generally, the survival rate ranges from 50% to 75%, with some cases showing significant improvement with appropriate medical or surgical intervention.

Hydrocephalus Puppy Life Expectancy

The life expectancy of a puppy with hydrocephalus depends on various factors, including the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of treatment. On average, affected puppies may have a life expectancy ranging from several months to a few years, with individual outcomes varying.

Prognosis and Long-Term Management

The prognosis for dogs with hydrocephalus can vary depending on factors such as the underlying cause, the severity of clinical signs, and the response to treatment. While some dogs may experience significant improvement with appropriate medical or surgical interventions, others may have a more guarded prognosis due to irreversible brain damage or complications such as recurring seizures.

Long-term management of hydrocephalus in dogs typically involves close monitoring by a veterinarian, regular follow-up appointments, and adjustments to treatment protocols as needed. Pet owners should be vigilant in observing their dog's behavior for any changes or worsening of symptoms and seek prompt veterinary care if concerns arise.


Hydrocephalus is a complex neurological condition that can affect dogs of all ages and breeds, posing challenges for both pet owners and veterinarians. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for hydrocephalus in dogs, individuals can take proactive steps to optimize the care and well-being of affected animals. Through close collaboration between pet owners and veterinary professionals, dogs with hydrocephalus can receive the comprehensive support and treatment they need to lead fulfilling lives despite the challenges posed by this condition.

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