Hydrocephalus is a congenital condition that affects both dogs and cats. While you may have never heard of hydrocephalus, you’ve likely heard of “water on the brain,” -- a common term for this condition. Hydrocephalus is rather uncommon, and when it does occur, it often occurs in utero or later in life after a traumatic head injury or infection. The “water on the brain” is cerebrospinal fluid, which gathers inside the skull along the brain, resulting in pressure on the brain.
Why Did My Cat or Dog Develop Hydrocephalus?
Your cat or dog may have developed this condition because of genetic factors, a difficult birth, or an infection later in life. The most common causes include:
- Hereditary. This is most common among smaller dogs, especially Cairn Terriers, Chihuahuas, Maltese, Pomeranians, Toy Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Lhasa Apsos, Pekingese, Pugs, and Shih Tzus. As for cats, the condition has been seen primarily in the Siamese breed.
- Prenatal infections, such as feline distemper virus for cats.
- Exposure to drugs that cause birth defects, such as griseofulvin.
- Trauma during the birthing process.
- Brain tumors.
- Traumatic injury affecting the head.
- Brain infection or inflammatory illness.
How Will I Know if My Dog or Cat Has Hydrocephalus?
Hydrocephalus is actually hard to spot in cats and dogs, particularly because it occurs in dogs known for their dome-shaped heads. Also, some animals show no signs. However, the most commonly seen symptoms, when they appear, include:
- Small birth size, often they will be the runt of the litter
- Head enlargement in the first few weeks after birth
- Neurological issues such as seizures at about 8 to 12 weeks
- Eyes that gaze downward and outward
- Difficulty housebreaking
- Moodiness and behavioral issues
What Are the Best Ways to Treat Hydrocephalus?
After a physical examination, and in some cases additional testing including CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasounds, your vet will likely suggest a treatment plan that manages the symptoms that arise from hydrocephalus. If left untreated, hydrocephalus may be fatal. Common ways to manage these symptoms include:
- Seizure medications
- Corticosteroids to reduce brain swelling and inflammation
- Diuretics to reduce cerebrospinal fluid
The most effective treatment is surgically placing a shunt that redirects fluid to a more benign location, where it can be easily absorbed, but this is an extremely expensive procedure and is rarely performed.
Keep in mind that while hydrocephalus can be treated, it can not be reversed nor cured. The only way to truly prevent hydrocephalus is during the breeding process, meaning animals with this condition should not be bred since the condition could likely appear in their offspring.
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Dog Neurological Disorders And Brain Health
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