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Hydrocephalus in Dogs

What is Hydrocephalus?

Born with Hydrocephalus, tiny puppy Toby uses a full support dog wheelchair to walk

Hydrocephalus is a condition where there is a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in a dog’s brain. The fluid builds up, placing pressure on the brain, which can lead to brain damage and even death. Often a congenital disease, meaning a dog is born with hydrocephalus. 

The condition most commonly occurs in small or tiny dog breeds. A brain hemorrhage during a difficult birth is one possible reason why a dog may be born with hydrocephalus. Although the symptoms may be noticeable in young dogs, they aren’t actually born with it. Hydrocephalus dogs are born with another condition that causes the fluid buildup that becomes hydrocephalus. 

A dog may acquire hydrocephalus or “water on the brain” later in life due to a Vitamin D deficiency, intracranial inflammatory disease, swelling in the brain, a brain tumor, or the parainfluenza virus. 

Signs and Symptoms of Hydrocephalus in Dogs

There are many physical and behavioral signs that a pup may have hydrocephalus, including:

Small dog with hydrocephalus uses Walkin' Wheels wheelchair to walk
  • A dome-shaped skull
  • Wide-set eyes
  • Inability to settle and compulsive circling
  • Unusual posture
  • Head pressing (a term for a dog pressing its head against a wall)
  • Unusual gait or spastic walking
  • Falling over to one side
  • Slow growth
  • Increased vocalization or excitement
  • Neurological symptoms
  • Difficulty learning and house training (impacts 75% of all hydro pups)

Not all hydrocephalus dogs have noticeable symptoms right from birth. It may take a while for symptoms to become noticeable. Most dogs will show signs of hydrocephalus around 8 to 12 weeks old. Hydro pups may also suffer from other conditions, such as blindness or seizures. It’s possible for a dog to be diagnosed simply based on their symptoms and visual appearance. Some cases will require additional testing from an ultrasound or MRI.

Treating and Caring for a Hydrocephalus Pup


Dogs with mild hydro symptoms or when in the earliest stages of the disease may be treated with corticosteroid medicines. Medication helps to reduce fluid production and inflammation. Additional medication may be prescribed to treat seizures and other symptoms. 

Surgical Treatment for Canine Hydrocephalus

In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery. During surgery, the veterinary surgeon places a shunt to drain the excess fluid from the brain into the abdomen. Surgical success rates are high, around 80%, however, surgery can be an expensive option, and also highly specialized, so it may not be available everywhere. Like with any other surgery, there are risks. Speak with your vet to see if surgery is the right option for your dog. 

Mobility Assistance

A dog wheelchair can be beneficial to help hydrocephalus puppies maintain their balance, walk, and stay upright. A four wheel wheelchair can be used to help prevent them from falling over and maintain a natural stance so they can eat, drink, and get their exercise. 

4 Things to Know about Hydrocephalus in Dogs

  1. It is not a common condition
  2. Parents of hydrocephalus puppy should not be bred again
  3. Early treatment is key 
  4. Treatment of the symptoms is often the recommended treatment plan

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  1. This was very informative. My daughter just had to put her dog to sleep(age) and she got a puppy a small english breed w pug nose. It developed a very large skull and started falling over and kicking its legs well the vet said water on the brain from birth.. the people were selling them but gave her this one and its goibg to break her heart again… she had Zoe for 15 years and now this. Arent the people responsible for this as im sure they knew something was wrong with it and pur the expense and heart ache off on her. I am so mad over this i may go to civil court.

    • John, if there’s anything we can do to help or answer any questions about how to help your daughter’s puppy, please call us! We’re happy to answer any questions you may have, 888-253-0777

  2. I’m sorry your daughter is going through this. I’ve been a breeder for 10 years and my contract guarantees the puppy for 1 year for congenital defect. A hydro puppy is definitely a congental defect. Although hydro symptoms usually begin at 8-12 week. Nevertheless the breeder should take responsibility.
    Good Luck!

  3. If a dog is 3 months old & diagnosed with hydro but doesn’t have any symptoms yet will they have a relatively normal life or will this get worse with time?

  4. I got a puppy and she 3 months old now still has soft spots but her head isn’t really huge her eyes look like there delveolping better she got her first round of shot but she sleeps slot and she plays like normal pup and she potied on the training pads my question is will she survive this if I get her treatment

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