Brain Tumors in Dogs

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The symptoms associated with brain tumors in dogs can often mimic those related to other diseases.

Owners play a vital role in helping identify changes in their dogs that may indicate the presence of a brain tumor, so knowing what symptoms to watch for can help your dog.

What Are Brain Tumors in Dogs

A tumor in your dog's brain is when there is a growth of abnormal cells. These growths are usually classified as primary or secondary.

Primary brain tumors are ones where the abnormal cells originated in the brain or its membrane.

Secondary brain tumors are usually cancers that have spread from other parts of the body, known as metastases. It can also relate to cancer in another part of the body (such as the nasal cavity) that impact on the brain by local extension.

Signs of Brain Tumors in Dogs

  • Muscle atrophy
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Head pressing
  • Head tilts
  • Loss of balance
  • Eye twitching

Different types of tumors can cause different symptoms.

Muscle Atrophy

Some types of brain tumors can cause the muscles in the head to shrink or atrophy. This may occur on one or both sides but will result in a sunken area on the head. It is an obvious symptom of some tumors like trigeminal nerve sheath tumors, but it can also indicate other issues with the muscles that are not related to cancer.

Neurological Changes

Forebrain tumors can affect the senses as well as cause irregular misfiring of information in the brain. This can result in seizures, perceived pain, confusion, depression, pacing or circling, forgetfulness, and other symptoms including head pressing.

Head pressing is one of the most commonly discussed symptoms of brain tumors and occurs when a dog pushes its head against the wall, door, or piece of furniture to apply pressure to it.

Vestibular Signs

A head tilt, twitching of the eyes, falling to one side, leaning the head to one side, abnormal eye position, and the sense of a loss of balance are all referred to as vestibular signs. These signs can also indicate vestibular disease and not a brain tumor.

Causes of Brain Tumors in Dogs

Currently, the exact causes of brain tumors in dogs are generally not clear. Certain factors could have an influence including diet, environment, genes, exposure to certain viruses and even trauma.

Diagnosing Brain Tumors in Dogs

The first step in finding out whether or not your dog has a brain tumor is to take it to the vet. Your vet will discuss the symptoms you are seeing at home, observe your dog, and perform a thorough physical examination to check for abnormalities. If a brain tumor is still suspected, a discussion regarding whether or not you'd like to run some tests may occur.

Some dog owners opt to run these diagnostic tests so that they can know exactly what their dog has and provide a course of treatment while others opt not to and focus solely on providing palliative care.

X-rays of the chest to look for lesions in the lungs indicating the cancer has spread, CT scans or MRI scans of the head to look for a tumor, blood work to analyze organ function as well as blood cell and platelet counts, and potentially even surgery or a biopsy to get a sample of the tumor to test may be recommended.

Treatment of Brain Tumors in Dogs

There is no cure for a brain tumor, but some treatments for specific types may buy you some extra time with your dog by delaying tumor growth and spread.

Primary brain tumors tend to have more options in terms of treatment when compared to secondary types.

Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery may be options that are discussed to treat your dog's specific brain tumor. Even without running diagnostic tests, some of these options may still be available.

Palliative care can also help to manage the symptoms of a brain tumor for as long as possible. It aims to maintain or improve your dog's quality of life and may include pain medications and steroids.

You'll want to discuss your options and what they involve with your family and veterinarian to choose the right steps for you and your dog.

Not every dog is well-suited for chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery and many drug options require special at-home care for the safe removal of feces as well as a strict schedule of medication administration.

Monitoring Quality of Life

Although certain treatment options can at least help to improve a dog's quality of life and may slow the progression of the disease, there is still a lot to learn about brain tumors in dogs. It is important to be aware that following the diagnosis of a brain tumor, the long-term prognosis is usually guarded.

The most important thing to monitor is your dog's quality of life. Regardless of whether or not treatment is selected, you need to make sure your dog is still comfortable and happy.

Appetite, elimination schedules, socialization, playing with favorite toys, and other normal activities for your dog are things to monitor. When these things start becoming less of a normal activity, it may, unfortunately, be time to discuss euthanasia with your veterinarian.

Survival times for dogs with brain tumors vary drastically, but the average survival time is only three to four months with palliative care directed at keeping the dog comfortable for as long as possible.

Some types of tumors, like cerebral tumors, may carry a survival time of up to a year but others, like tumors in the brainstem, unfortunately, have an even shorter survival time.

Dogs that receive chemotherapy, radiation, and surgical treatment may have extended survival times but, again, it is entirely dependent on the type of tumor.