Hydrocephalus In Dogs Life Expectancy

Hydrocephalus, more commonly known as water on the brain, is a disease that affects a wide range of species. Unfortunately, dogs are one such species, so it’s important for pet lovers to know at least the basics about it. As such, we’ve put together some of the most important facts on hydrocephalus in dogs, so you’ll be able to catch it early and adequately care for your pet’s special needs!

The hydrocephalic dog typically has a very limited life span. Severity differs, but few dogs with this condition live to be over two years of age. What is the management? Most cases go untreated.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Hydrocephalus in Dogs

A vet may suspect hydrocephalus based on a physical exam alone. The veterinarian will examine the dog’s appearance and interactions with and response to stimuli. A dog with an enlarged dome-like head, open fontanelle (soft spot on the skull), and eyes positioned down and out are often evaluated for hydrocephalus.


The vet may take x-rays to view your dog’s skull, and to determine if there are open plates and other signs suggesting hydrocephalus.


If your dog has an open fontanelle, the vet may perform an ultrasound to visualize the dilated chambers within the brain.

CT and/or MRI

These imaging tests can provide a definitive diagnosis of hydrocephalus because they provide crucial information about internal brain structure and function that cannot be determined other ways.

In some instances, the vet may also perform electroencephalography (EEG), which detects electrical activity in the dog’s brain and a cerebrospinal fluid analysis, which measures chemicals in the dog’s spinal fluid.

Treatment of hydrocephalus involves addressing the underlying cause. Not all forms of hydrocephalus return to a “normal” state, but the goal is to stop progression of disease. Age, severity, and severity of symptoms all play a role in developing a treatment plan for a dog with hydrocephalus.

Medicine to decrease production of cerebral spinal fluid is often the first treatment option, especially in dogs with mild to moderate disease. The most common medicine used to accomplish this are:

  • Steroids such as prednisolone and dexamethasone
  • Diuretics such as furosemide
  • Proton-pump inhibitors such as omeprazole
  • In severe cases or those that don’t respond to medications, the vet may suggest neurosurgery as a treatment option. Surgery typically involves implanting a shunt to remove fluid from the brain and relocating it to another location in the body, usually the abdominal cavity. Surgery has a 50% to 90% success rate in animals with hydrocephalus.

    If a dog is having seizures, the vet may administer valium and then prescribe other treatments such as antibiotics, surgery, or steroids, once the dog is stable.

    How to Treat Hydrocephalus in Dogs

    Hydrocephalus must be treated early to have the best chance of success. The main treatment goals are to stop CSF buildup in the brain and reduce symptoms.

    Your veterinarian will determine the best treatment option for your dog according to your dogs age, neurologic status, and severity of symptoms.

    For mild to moderate hydrocephalus (usually congenital hydrocephalus), treatment will begin with medications:

  • Steroids to reduce inflammation and brain swelling
  • Diuretics to increase the outflow of CSF and decrease CSF production
  • Omeprazole to reduce CSF production
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Surgical placement of a shunt is recommended if the hydrocephalus is severe (usually acquired hydrocephalus) or isnt responding adequately to medications.

    This shunt has a complicated name—ventriculoperitoneal shunt—and redirects the flow of CSF into the abdomen. It is a long-term treatment solution and has a success rate between 50 and 90 percent.

    As they grow, puppies with congenital hydrocephalus will need subsequent surgeries to replace the shunt with a larger shunt.

    Shunt placement is complex and not without risk. Many veterinarians are not comfortable performing this surgery. Surgical complications include shunt blockage and infection within the shunt.

    What is the Life Expectancy of Hydrocephalus?

    Unfortunately, due to the nature of hydrocephalus, most afflicted dogs have a shorter life expectancy than normal. This tends to vary based on the severity of the case. While milder cases can be treated, severe instances are often difficult to treat, so the life expectancy of these cases is much shorter. How much shorter depends on the severity of the dog’s condition and what types of intervention are provided early.


    Can a dog live with hydrocephalus?

    Recovery and Management of Hydrocephalus in Dogs

    Dogs with mild cases of hydrocephalus may lead normal lives with minimal medical intervention. However, more severe cases can have a poor prognosis as the disease progresses and can eventually lead to brain herniation, seizures, and even death.

    Can hydrocephalus in dogs be cured?

    When hydrocephalus is first diagnosed, treatment is aimed at reducing the clinical signs—such as seizures, if they occur—and stopping the production of CSF. The vast majority of dogs will be managed with medication, and the condition will never be totally cured.

    At what age is hydrocephalus diagnosed in dogs?

    In general, hydrocephalus in dogs is a serious, often life-threatening, condition. The forecasted outcome for hydrocephalus depends on its duration and severity. Puppies with congenital hydrocephalus may do well following shunt placement if severe brain damage has not occurred.