Symptoms of Hydrocephalus in Dogs

Hydrocephalus occurs when cerebrospinal fluid builds up in a dog's brain. Cerebrospinal fluid circulated through the brain before entering the circulatory system. Sometimes, the fluid doesn't leave and creates pressure on the brain and can lead to brain failure.

Cerebrospinal fluid build up can happen to any gender at any age, though many cases are discovered before a dog is a year old. It can be a result of genetic defect, head trauma, infection or tumors. Studies find that hydrocephalus is most common in toy breeds, but it can affect other breeds.

Physical Change to Head Shape

In younger dogs, especially puppies whose skull bones have not fused, the shape of the head takes on a dome-like appearance with hydrocephalus. The dog will develop a bulge at the top of the head that is clearly visible.

Mental Changes that Accompany Hydrocephalus

Mental changes are the most commonly noticed symptom when there is too much cerebrospinal fluid within the dog's skull. However, many pet owners may overlook the signs thinking the dog is simply having a bad day or may have pulled a muscle and simply needs a day to rest.

One of the more noticeable behavior changes is that the dog cries out for no apparent reason. Pet owners may think their pet is in severe pain but are unable to find any physical issue. Many dogs will press their head against walls or the floor hoping to relieve some of the pressure.

Some dogs become very aggressive as the fluid puts pressure on the brain. A normally gentle dog may snap and bite at owners and anyone who comes near.

The dog may become very inactive and refuse to participate in favorite activities. At other times, the dog may become extremely jumpy and overreact to sights and sounds around him. Dogs that have been fully trained may forget basic commands. Dogs may suddenly eliminate waste in inappropriate areas. Teaching new commands becomes impossible because the dog loses mental abilities.

Difficulties with Motor Function

As pressure builds on the brain, many dogs struggle with basic motor function. You'll notice your pet staggers and frequently falls down. Many dogs find it hard to hold their head straight and, as a result, spend lots of time walking in circles.

The dog's gait becomes uneven. You many notice that your pet struggles to keep the leg straight during strides. Movements become jerky and uneven.

Eye movements also become spastic. The dog may have trouble focusing. In most dogs, the eyes droop towards the floor and muscle control makes it hard for the dog to focus on more than floor-level items.

If pressure on the brain builds too much, the dog may develop seizures. Left untreated, the pressure on the brain can lead to coma and death.

Impaired Hearing and Vision

Many dogs with hydrocephalus develop vision and hearing loss. The dog may stop responding to your calls. Dogs with vision impairment may see shadowy images. Movement becomes difficult because they can lose depth perception and walk into objects like tables or chairs that have always been in your home. Dogs with vision loss may find being outdoors to be stressful because they cannot clearly see potential hazards.