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Hydrocephalus in Dogs… Causes, treatments and expenses.

Hydrocephalus in dogs is a condition that occurs when cerebrospinal fluid (CBF) leaks from the dog’s (or cat’s) brain into the outer skull, causing unruly pressure and possible brain damage in the long term for your loved one. This unfortunate condition is characterized by head swelling and seizures, among a few other terrible symptoms, which is why it is a severe medical condition that should only be treated and diagnosed professionally.

You see…

Hydrocephalus is a condition that must be treated immediately. If the additional pressure on the brain isn’t removed and drained away immediately, it could cause permanent brain damage or death to your pet. Additionally, your vet will want to determine “why” this is occurring so that once the initial danger is removed, they can initiate a treatment plan that will help remove the cause of the condition in the first place.


Most canine sufferers of severe Hydrocephalus end up euthanized. This is because either the damage that has occurred due to hydrocephaly is significant or, unfortunately, because the treatment for this condition is so expensive and specialized that some folks can’t afford to pay for the care their loved one needs.

This is why we wanted to take a moment and discuss precisely what hydrocephaly is so that if you ever do find yourself in the care of a pet that has been diagnosed with this condition, you’ll know what to expect.

So, what is Hydrocephalus, and what causes it?

As seen above, this condition sees CBF leaking into the outer skull. This fluid cannot “escape,” causing it to build up until the intracranial pressure causes brain damage. Now…

There are two different types of hydrocephaly that you should be aware of. Your pet can either have hydrocephalus, or you can have primary hydrocephalus, with the latter being the inherited type that will start to develop as the pup grows.

Clinical signs and symptoms of hydrocephalus

Clinical signs and symptoms of hydrocephalus can include:

  • Head swelling,
  • Partial sightedness,
  • Extreme trouble with training,
  • And your pup presses his paws into his head or against complex objects.

Often, these symptoms will come into play when your pup is roughly ten weeks old – if you have a case of primary hydrocephalus. However, dogs can also develop this medical condition later in life, usually due to head or spinal trauma, severe infection, or another disease. Unfortunately, dogs usually display irreversible brain damage one to two years after these symptoms begin.

Dandy-Walker syndrome…

It is a symptom of this condition. While the medical term was coined for humans, we also use it for dogs. In this particular malformation, Primary Hydrocephalus affects the patient to the degree that the third and fourth ventricles are adversely affected. This malformation can be detected via magnetic resonance imaging – another expensive cost.

Most Commonly Affected Breeds

Because it has been found that primary hydrocephalus has a genetic link, it is recommended that you avoid buying a pup from any litter with a family history of this disease if you intend to breed.

Breeds at risk from this condition

Additionally, brachycephalic breeds (or short-nosed breeds) of dogs are far more likely to inherit this disease. Brachycephalic dogs have a dome-shaped skull, meaning the CSF flow through their brain is more likely to be obstructed.

Treatment Options

As we mentioned before, treatment for this in severe cases is often euthanasia because the cost of treatment is so high (which is truly sad). However, if you have the financial means or if you have a pet insurance policy in place that will help you cover the cost of treatment (most companies require you to be on a more extensive plan for this to be covered), your vet will likely recommend that you consult with a neurosurgeon who may be able to provide relief to your pet.

In situations like these…

A ventriculoperitoneal shunt is inserted into the brain, and the excess CSF is redirected from the brain to a different, less harmful body region. Shunt placement usually connects the brain to the abdominal region. The shunt will act as a ventricular catheter, filtering the liquid away from the dangerous areas. Your vet may also manage the condition in the short term with a series of drugs designed to reduce seizures and inflammation.

Which brings us to…

We want to remind folks that we at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors, veterinarians, or medical professionals. We are all a bunch of folks passionate about animals and only want what’s best for them. This is why if you feel like your pet may have hydrocephalus (or any other health issue), you’ll want to have them checked out by a vet ASAP!

Because…An early diagnosis will often lead to the “best” medical outcome for your pet regardless of what is bothering them, but beyond that, diagnosing a medical condition early could save you a bundle in medical costs! This is also why we here at IndulgeYourPet also recommend that any new pet owner take a moment and see what it might cost to purchase a pet insurance policy for your new animal.

Now, will a pet insurance policy be suitable for everyone?

No, probably not. But until you fully understand what these policies “will” and “won’t” cover and how much these pet insurance policies cost, how will you know if one might be right for you?

For more information on who we feel currently offers the “best” pet insurance policies out there, we would encourage you to check out our Best Pet Insurance Policies article.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Lisa February 7, 2021, 10:54 pm

    Will I still be able to get pet I insurance, on a puppy with hydrocephalus, if he is born with it?

    • indulgeyourpet February 8, 2021, 7:55 am


      As with most serious pre-existing conditions this will certainly make it more difficult for you puppy to qualify for coverage. Our recommendation would be to contact the insurance companies directly and see what they might be able to do for you.

      Thanks and good luck!


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