Ever had a fuzzy moment with your dog? Your pet not remembering where it hid its toy, having a domed shaped head, looking dizzy with a staggering gait, hydrocephalus could be the culprit. Hydrocephalus ‘water on the brain’ as it’s also known, is a neurological condition which could be daunting if not taken care of on time. Never lose a pet to Hydrocephalus, read on to learn all about hydrocephalus, its causes, symptoms and treatment.

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  1. What is Hydrocephalus in Dogs
  2. What Causes Hydrocephalus in Dogs
  3. Hydrocephalus Puppy Symptoms
  4. Hydrocephalus in Dogs Treatment
  5. Hydrocephalus Puppy Life Expectancy
  6. FAQs
  7. Conclusion

What is Hydrocephalus in Dogs

Hydrocephalus in dogs simply means the presence of excessive cerebrospinal fluid buildup in the brain and leakage into the skull, which makes the head look bigger than normal. A neurological condition that could be mistaken for a mere normal dome- shaped head in some pet breeds.

For apple-headed breeds like Chihuahuas, this type of condition might be erroneously overlooked. But with a closer look accompanied with other symptoms, one could tell if there is something unusual going on with the dog’s head.

Hydrocephalus in dogs occurs when there is an excessive fluid leakage into the skull which exerts pressure on the skull leading to head swelling. If left untreated, the skull continues to bulge and could be terminal. Toy breeds of dogs like Chihuahua, Pugs, Boston Terriers are more predisposed to this kind of conditions especially at a younger age.

Presence of a dome-shaped head does not mean your dog has hydrocephalus. Chihuahuas for instance naturally have apple-dome shaped heads, I remember one time a client complained about his pet dog having what he described as a ‘large head’. After proper examinations were carried out, I reassured him his dog is normal and healthy, it just had an apple dome-shaped head like most Chihuahuas do.

What Causes Hydrocephalus in Dogs

Hydrocephalus in dogs has become an unavoidable condition in some cases because of its relationship with genetics. Being genetically predisposed, it becomes a difficult condition to tackle. Amongst small pet breeds, hydrocephalus is most bound to occur in puppies than adults due to its occurrence alongside brain development.

Generally, hydrocephalus is classified as Congenital and acquired. Congenital hydrocephalus usually occurs due to genetics or developmental anomalies while acquired hydrocephalus occurs due to external predisposing factors such as infection. In a broader view, let’s talk about some of the causes of Hydrocephalus below:

Congenital Hydrocephalus

This is a classification of hydrocephalus that occurs during formation of the Brian. Here, an anomaly in the brain could lead to the impairment of CSF production rate, or altered its resorption resulting in excessive CSF accumulation in the Brian and skull. This type of hydrocephalus is usually noticed at birth which makes it more difficult to manage.

A prenatal infection or bleeding in the brain due to trauma are some of the predisposing factors to a congenital hydrocephalus. The excessive fluid production exerts too much pressure on the skull and since the skull is not expandable it leads to brain swelling and enlargement of the head.

Underdevelopment of brain parts like the Vertebrae and cyst formation can concurrently lead to fluid accumulation and subsequently hydrocephalus.

Acquired Hydrocephalus

An acquired hydrocephalus could occur in dogs with normal brain, this condition is acquired later on in their lifetime. Many factors contribute to this condition and some of which could be prevented or mitigated. Some of these factors include:

  • Abnormal absorption of the CSF
  • Impaired circulation of CSF
  • Brain Trauma
  • Brain Tumour
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Inflammatory Brain Disease
  • Haemorrhage
  • Toxin or chemicals exposed to foetus during pregnancy
  • Blood Clot
  • Infection

Most of these causes are intertwined, a head injury or trauma when not treated will result in a blood clot which could possibly cause an occlusion in the CSF pathways resulting in hydrocephalus. But this could be avoided, with the Petcube GPS Tracker, you can now keep an eye on your dog’s every move ensuring it is safe from any harm that could lead to a brain injury.

Since the CSF plays a very crucial role in brain immunity, any form of infection or trauma could stimulate an excessive amount of CSF production or impact its circulation and resorption. Tumour has also been linked to causing a blockage of the CSF passages leading to accumulation of fluid in the brain.

The CSF surrounds the brain, protects its tissue, provides nutrients and immunity to the brain, anything that would disrupt that order could lead to a distortion in CSF production or flow and thus hydrocephalus.

Hydrocephalus Puppy Symptoms

Symptoms of hydrocephalus in puppies could be expressed in diverse forms but the common symptoms of hydrocephalus in puppies includes:

  • Circling
  • Non genetic Dome- shaped head
  • Abnormal eye position and blindness when terminal
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Difficulty in learning and loss of memory if prolonged
  • Head pressing against objects
  • Inappropriate sounds of pain
  • Overall health retardation
  • Seizures
  • Bain dysfunction leading to stupor and possibly coma

Symptoms of puppy hydrocephalus are quite easy to identify, a general change in your dog’s behaviour should give you an idea that something is wrong. To aid you observe a change of behaviour timely, take advantage of the Petcube Pet Camera which allows you to watch your dog without being in close proximity to it. With this, you will take proactive steps if you observe something unusual with your pet.

Hydrocephalus in Dogs Treatment

Treatment of hydrocephalus is done symptomatically, tackling the symptoms one at a time and as a whole. Pain, inflammation, tissue damage and CSF imbalance are some of the vital problems to solve during treatment of hydrocephalus.

To give your pet a better shot at recovering from hydrocephalus, report to the Vet if any of the symptoms mentioned are observed. The earlier the treatment is initiated, the faster and better its recovery.

To treat hydrocephalus, a Veterinarian will follow a similar clinical procedures such as:


The primary thing to do towards solving any clinical condition is to understand what is really going on. Here, the Veterinarian asks the client some vital questions which cut across when the symptoms were first noticed and how long it has persisted. These questions will help the Vet arrive at a diagnosis.

After which, the Vet will carry out a physical examination for symptoms such as dome-shaped head, displaced and enlarged eyes amongst others.

Further examinations involving X- rays, CT, MRI, and ultrasound imaging would also be carried out to ascertain if the integrity of the brian has changed and also to look out for abnormal brain structure images which could lead to a definitive diagnosis.

Pain Relievers

Steroids such as Dexamethasone are administered therapeutically to reduce pain and relieve the dog of pain and stress.

Diuretics and Proton Pump Inhibitors

Furosemide and Omeprazole are very effective in reducing CSF around the brain. Furosemide acts by redirecting fluid to other parts of the body especially the bladder leading to frequent urination and subsequent reduction of CSF.

Omeprazole as a proton pump inhibitor has been shown to help relieve the brain of excessive CSF, though how this occurs has remained unknown.

“Omeprazole helps decreases cerebrospinal fluid by 26 percent” - Dr. Wendy Brooks.

Anti- inflammatory drugs

Medications such as prednisolone are given to mitigate inflammation in the brain and are also added to the therapy during treatment to relieve the brain of swelling.


In complicated or terminal cases, surgery may be the last resort. Here a shunt in the form of a small tube is inserted into the brain to help drain out excessive cerebrospinal fluids to other parts of the body. This method helps to relieve the brain and skull of the pressure created by the CSF.

Care should be taken while using this method, if there is an already existing infection in the brain, the shunt will rather not be a good option until the infection is taken care of. This is because the shunt could serve as a shield to the infection, which further complicates the condition.

Overtime as the puppy grows, the shunt is adjusted to fit into the brain ensuring it remains effective. Though it has its limitations it still proffers a long lasting solution to hydrocephalus.

Clearing up your dog’s treatment bill could be a hassle, but with our Emergency Fund offer, you can now enjoy up to $3000 coverage in emergency Vet fees to enable your pet get immediate treatment. For reading this article, you can claim a 27% discount by subscribing using the exclusive link.

Hydrocephalus Puppy Life Expectancy

Life expectancy of puppies with hydrocephalus is not outrightly a given number but depending on how well the dog responds to treatment, it could live a much happier and longer life. I had visited my granny one time and she had told me how Billy, her dog, had survived brain surgery due to hydrocephalus. I wasn’t present at the time during the ordeal and was surprised though happy that Billy is now healthy and kicking two years post surgery.

Early diagnosis is instrumental in having a very good prognosis for a hydrocephalus case. When cases of hydrocephalus are reported and diagnosed on time, the dog has a better shot at recovery with a promising life expectancy. With fewer or no brain damage, dogs with hydrocephalus stand a chance to live longer and healthier post hydrocephalus phase.

“About 50% of dogs with hydrocephalus responds well to treatment depending on the severity of the condition, age, and location” - Dr. Lauren Jones.


What Breeds of Dogs are predisposed to Hydrocephalus?

Toy breeds are mostly predisposed to hydrocephalus, including the English bulldog, Maltese, Pug, Pomeranian, Chihuahua, Lhasa apso, Toy poodle, Yorkshire terrier, Boston terrier and Pekingese.

Can a Dog with Hydrocephalus Survive?

Hydrocephalus condition is not a death sentence, only when left untreated does it become life threatening. With the right timely medical attention, dogs with hydrocephalus survive.

Is hydrocephalus in dogs genetic?

Hydrocephalus in dogs in some cases has been considered of genetic origin. Though more research is going into this, its frequent reoccurrence in toy breeds reassures its link to genetics.

Is hydrocephalus preventable?

Knowing the types of dog breeds that are at risk of hydrocephalus prepares one for a future occurrence. Apart from the congenital type which might not have many preventive measures, the acquired type could be prevented if the dog is taken for regular check ups and provided with a healthy lifestyle.


Hydrocephalus still remains one of those conditions under research, researchers are yet to understand many aspects of the condition. With what we know so far, we can help many dogs out there especially the toy breeds live a much longer life by diagnosing the condition on time and giving the best treatment possible.

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