Hydrocephalus in Dogs

Hydrocephalus in dogs is a condition where you will have to make a decision about your dog or puppy. There are sides that feel that any dog with this condition should be moved completely out of any potential breeding situation, and there are sides that feel that the dog should be euthanized immediately.

Dogs with this condition are not dumb, stupid, or useless; they are just going to be slow and they will need your love. Dogs with hydrocephalus will never live any type of normal life, or will they? It may not be as normal as an unaffected dog, but the affected dog deserves ever chance at life.


Hydrocephalus in dogs can be the result of a congenital condition which is birth defect or a genetic defect; or it could be the result of some type trauma. It could also be a caused by an underlying condition such as perinatal infections or a central nervous system tumor that over time may correct a lot of the symptoms if diagnosed properly.

There is also some speculation that it may also be caused by a deficiency of Vitamin A and the mineral copper. Hydrocephalus is an excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid, referred to as CSF in the brain and it is found both in and around the brain tissues.

This fluid normally flows around the brain and spinal cord freely unless there is some type of an obstruction that does not allow for this fluid to drain properly. It can also be the result of the body producing too much of this fluid.

Located within the brain are ventricles which are fluid filled gaps or spaces. With this condition your dogs ventricles basically fill up with too much fluid and as a result pressure occurs which prevents development of all the necessary brain tissues. Essentially, your pet’s brain has not been allowed to fully develop.

Dogs at Risk:

Although this condition can and does affect any breed of dog, it is much more common and thus believed to be a genetic defect in toy and short faced breeds. The breeds most affected will be Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, as well as the English, Pug, and French bulldog’s breeds.


What is so mysterious about this condition is the symptoms and how they surface. If the hydrocephalus is severe, the symptoms will start to show at a very early age; if moderate, they will start to show in slow progressive steps, and if mild, it may not show at all until your dog is full grown adult.

If the symptoms are very severe, within the first six months the puppies head will take on a cone shaped appearance and the bones on the top of the head will fail to close, leaving a soft spot. This doomed shaped skull will may cause the eyes to be wider in distance in the head than normal as well as developing unusual eye movements. It may also cause the puppy to go blind in the severest of cases.

Other severe symptoms are that your puppy may develop are seizures; but restless and erratic behavior is much more common. Your puppy may also be prone to utilize their head to do almost everything ranging from bumping you as a means of greeting to constantly getting their head stuck in places, primarily do to the fact that it can not see very well.

If moderate to mild conditions exist, you may not notice anything strange, but other symptoms you can watch for will be a lack of coordination well past the puppy stage as well as a constant circling.

Another very telling set of symptoms will be that your pet will have weak back legs and as a result develops a walk that produces a high stepping look where the front legs almost kick out; it is like the brain is over communicating to the front legs and not enough to the back legs.

But the most telling of all signs that your pet may have Hydrocephalus is that they will be extremely hard to train, especially in house training, as well as being extremely picky eaters. They are not difficult or are they dumb, they are just slow. If you watch for the symptoms and take some extra time with them, they will learn.

Diagnosis and Treatment:

The proper diagnosis of this condition will be the most critical aspect of proper treatment. If you do not fell comfortable with your veterinarian’s answers, get a second opinion, but most veterinarians can test and treat this condition effectively if it is not severe.

They will have to perform neurological assessments to make sure there is not a nervous system problem as well as laboratory tests for kidney or liver malfunctions. But the most important test will be the skull radiographs that will most likely produce the best results.

In over ninety percent of the cases, the problem will be with the excess fluid. The goal will them become to minimize and prevent any further brain damage by improving the flow of the CSF. Drugs may be used that can help to increase absorption or decrease production.

Surgical treatments may also be done with the usage of a process called shunting which attempts to remove the obstruction and thus allows for the fluid to flow properly again. In either case, follow up will be extremely important to monitor the brain damage that has occurred and adjust the treatments as necessary.

Severely affected animals may not respond at all to either treatment and you may have no choice in your decision, but in most cases they will respond and can be stable for a very long time and live a very happy life.


There have been several clinical tests in calves that have shown that a deficiency of Vitamin A has a direct involvement with the large ventricles in the frontal lobes not expanding and causing Hydrocephalus. There have also been several tests that have shown a deficiency of this vitamin in the mother’s diet has lead to malformations of the brain also producing this condition.

Copper deficiencies have also long been linked to abnormal brain developments so both nutrients might be considered beneficial as supplements in recommend dosages to help prevent any future damage. It will be extremely important to remember that your dog will have good days and bad days with this condition and they will need some extra help on the bad days. Don’t limit them, just help them and don’t give up on them.

They may have limitations, things may startle them and frighten them more easily and they may not be the brightest of dogs, but they are still a very precious life that deserves the chance to live. Just look into their eyes and you can see the same love as you would in any other dog.

I am an avid lover of pets and my wife and I have had several pets throughout our years. We are especially fond of dogs, and we have a 12 year old Dalmatian (our 3rd) and a “mutt” that we rescued when someone threw him away to die in a vacant field.

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