Diagnosing a Brain Tumor in Dogs

A brain tumor in dogs are difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be attributed to many different things and often go unnoticed. However, brain tumors are very serious, and a dog may only have a few months to live without treatment. Thus, proper diagnosis at the earliest stage is critical.

Brain Tumor Symptoms

Depending on the location of the tumor on the brain, your dog may not show symptoms right away. When the tumor is small, the body can adjust to the changes, but when the tumor gets too large, your dog will start to show symptoms.

Occasionally the symptoms will be obvious, such as seizures or blindness, but often the symptoms are just a change in intelligence or behavior.

If the tumor is located on the forebrain, you may see behavioral changes, increased or decreased appetite or thirst, decreasing vision and seizures. If it is located on the brain stem, you may see leaning and falling, a drunken gait, circling, loss of appetite, a head tilt or abnormal eye positioning. If it's located on the cerebellum, you may see an uncoordinated gait, swaying, a wide stance, head tremors or head tilt.

Brain Tumor Diagnosis

Before beginning any expensive procedures, your vet will try to rule out other options through complete blood testing, urinalysis and a complete physical and neurological exam. Since many of the symptoms of brain tumors can appear with other illnesses as well, it's important to determine definitively if your dog has any of these other illnesses.

After other options are eliminated, your dog will have to get an MRI scan or a CT scan, which will identify any unusual lumps in the brain. MRIs show the brain in more detail than CT scans, but the tests aren't as widely available and cost more when they are. Tissues from any abnormalities will be removed through a biopsy and studied in the lab since masses caused by infections can mimic brain tumors but be relatively harmless. Studying the tissue will also help identify if the tumor is malignant.

Brain Tumor Treatment

Since many pet owners opt not to treat brain tumors, little is known about the effectiveness of treatment. Tumors can be surgically removed, depending on their location, or be treated with chemotherapy and radiation. If the dog is showing secondary symptoms, such as seizures, those also may be treated to improve the dog's quality of life.

Treatment does appear to increase the lifespan of dogs with brain tumors. Those showing less symptoms or with smaller tumors have better chance for success. Tumors of the forebrain are easier to treat than tumors of the brain stem and cerebellum.

If you notice a sudden behavior change in your dog, especially if he is older than 5, consult your veterinarian before calling a trainer. Usually sudden behavior changes in older dogs are related to health problems. Since brain tumors are so difficult to detect, take action as soon as possible.