Hydrocephalus in Dogs: Diagnose & Treatment

Hydrocephalus in Dogs: Diagnose & Treatment

Author WDF Staff


Many health conditions can affect dogs. Some breeds are specifically prone to certain health issues. White dog breeds are prone to hearing loss, large breeds might be more prone to hip dysplasia, and tiny dog breeds are more prone to hydrocephalus than other breeds. This is not such a common health condition, and many dog owners are not entirely familiar with it. Here is what you should know about hydrocephalus in dogs and how to spot symptoms of it.

What is hydrocephalus in dogs?

Hydrocephalus in dogs is a condition where cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, leaks into the skull. If that happens, it can lead to brain swelling. The pressure builds inside the skull and presses on the soft brain tissue. If not treated, hydrocephalus can lead to irreversible brain damage and even death. There are two types of hydrocephalus in dogs, and they are;


Congenital means that this condition was present at birth. Congenital hydrocephalus is often connected to “apple head” (dome-shaped skull, like in apple head Chihuahuas), large fontanel (the soft spot on top of the dog’s head), and eyes that seem to gaze downwards (often called the “setting sun sign”)


Dogs that have congenital hydrocephalus might not have any symptoms while they are still young. However, there will be serious health issues as they develop. Some of the most common symptoms include falling on one side, behavioral changes, failing to housetrain, spastic walking, circling, and failing to learn basic commands. It is important to know that NOT all puppies with large fontanels will develop hydrocephalus.


As the name suggests, this condition was developed at some point. Some of the most common reasons acquired hydrocephalus in dogs develops are infections, diseases, and tumors. The flow of the CSF will be blocked, and the fluid will start building up.

The symptoms are very similar to those of congenital hydrocephalus. However, there are some additional symptoms dog owners should look out for. These symptoms are behavioral changes, head pressing (the dog presses their head against a wall or other surfaces), loss of vision, pacing, loss of coordination, restlessness, and seizures.

cocker puppy

What is CSF?

CSF or cerebrospinal fluid is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Its main job is to provide nutrients and protection. It can start to build up for two reasons - the flow or absorption is blocked, or the dog’s body produces too much cerebrospinal fluid.

What breeds can get hydrocephalus?

Unfortunately, all breeds can develop hydrocephalus. The main reason for acquired hydrocephalus is brain tumors. If a dog can get a brain tumor, it can develop hydrocephalus. However, small and brachycephalic breeds are especially prone to this condition. These breeds include;

You can check out the most popular small dog breeds here - Top 60 popular small dog breeds.

How can vets diagnose it?

Vets can quickly diagnose congenital hydrocephalus. They usually look for large fontanels and other clinical symptoms consistent with hydrocephalus, generally more than enough to make the first diagnosis. However, to be completely sure, vets can recommend one of these evaluations;

  • CT (Computed tomography)
  • MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging)
  • EEG (Electroencephalography)

corgi puppy on couch

Can hydrocephalus be treated?

Luckily, there are some things vets can recommend and have reasonable success. At the early stages of the puppy’s life, the treatment is focused on reducing the CSF production and stopping the inflammation. Vets might recommend corticosteroids like cortisone or prednisone. In severe congenital hydrocephalus cases, the dog might need medications that can keep their seizures under control. Some of those medications might be omeprazole, acetazolamide. or furosemide.

The treatment of acquired hydrocephalus aims to control the symptoms and cure the underlying condition causing hydrocephalus. If a brain tumor blocks the CSF flow, taking care of the tumor will take care of hydrocephalus. The treatment for the acquired type of hydrocephalus in dogs can include radiation, medication, or surgery.

Hydrocephalus surgery

Vets developed a special surgical procedure that can help puppies deal with this issue. However, this procedure is only available at some hospitals because it requires an experienced veterinary surgeon. The success rate is over 80% for the cases that were caught and treated early.


However, there are considerable risks involved with this surgery. This procedure will place a plastic tube that runs from the open spaces of the brain to the abdomen. Make sure you talk to your vet about this procedure and ask if they think that would be a great option for your puppy.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Congenital hydrocephalus is a birth defect, and dogs involved in producing puppies with hydrocephalus should not be bred again. Puppies that recovered from it should not be bred because they can do severe harm to healthy breeding lines.

How serious is hydrocephalus in dogs?

Hydrocephalus in dogs is considered a severe, life-threatening condition that needs very serious control and treatment. The prognosis will be different for puppies with congenital type. It will depend on whether any brain damage has occured. Acquired hydrocephalus in dogs has a bad prognosis because the most common reason for it is a brain tumor, which is another deadly condition.

World Dog Finder team

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