Hydrocephalus In Dogs Survival Rate

Surgery to place a tube that runs from the open spaces in the brain to the abdomen (ventriculoperitoneal shunt) can be performed at some veterinary teaching or specialty hospitals. Success rates as high as 80% are reported in cases treated early.

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.

    Signs and Symptoms of Hydrocephalus in Dogs

    The symptoms of congenital and acquired hydrocephalus are similar but occur at different time points in a dogs life: less than six months of age for congenital hydrocephalus and during adulthood for acquired hydrocephalus.

    Puppies with congenital hydrocephalus may look normal at birth other than a dome-shaped skull, wide-set eyes, and possibly an open fontanel (soft spot on top of the head). However, as the CSF builds up in the brain, other symptoms become apparent. Heres what you may notice:

  • Seizures
  • Stupor
  • Coma
  • Vision loss
  • Lethargy
  • Spastic walking
  • Head pressing
  • Walking in circles
  • Slow pace of learning
  • Not very responsive to stimuli
  • Inappropriate vocalization
  • Hyperexcitability
  • These symptoms tend to be severe in older dogs with acquired hydrocephalus.

    Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as you can if you notice these signs in your dog.

    How to Diagnose Hydrocephalus in Dogs

    The presence of a dome-shaped head and open fontanel, along with other hydrocephalus-related clinical signs, is often enough to diagnose congenital hydrocephalus. Diagnosing acquired hydrocephalus is not as straightforward, particularly because other diseases can cause similar symptoms.

    After examining your dog, your veterinarian will want to perform imaging tests of your dogs brain, including ultrasound. Ultrasound is a good option for puppies with an open fontanel because the open fontanel would allow your veterinarian to see your dogs brain.

    Advanced diagnostic imaging options are computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which veterinary radiologists perform. CT and MRI are recommended for dogs without an open fontanel but are suspected of having hydrocephalus. Dogs need to be anesthetized for these tests.

    CSF analysis can help determine the underlying cause of acquired hydrocephalus. For example, inflammatory cells in the CSF can point toward an infection.


    How long does a dog live with hydrocephalus?

    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.

    Can a dog with hydrocephalus survive?

    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.

    Why do dogs get hydrocephalus?

    This surgery requires a brain surgeon and is usually expensive, so many dogs never receive it and are euthanized, instead. Vets generally treat cases of acquired hydrocephalus by focusing on the underlying causes. They may use medication, surgery, or radiation and chemotherapy in cases of tumors.