Hopefully, you will never have to deal with a pet dog that has a brain tumor. If you ever do, this article should give a decent thumbnail sketch about what your pet might go through. A brain tumor exhibits specific symptoms, is relatively manageable, but is an incurable affliction. A brain tumor might be one of the saddest misfortunes that a dog can suffer through. There are several different methods for treating a dog with such a tumor, but the reality is that your dog will never be the same again.
Technically, the words “brain tumor” means a growth in the brain. Unfortunately, this definition has been sullied with the assumption that it is only cancer related. However, a brain tumor can simply mean an abnormal growth of tissue on the brain. A primary brain tumor is the result of brain cells growing abnormally within the brain and its membranes. The other kind is a cancer that has spread to the brain from elsewhere in the body. In the case of a cancerous tumor, there is no true cure that guarantee 100% remission. In fact, most brain tumors cannot be cured, but can only be treated.
Brain tumors can affect the forebrain, the brainstem and the cerebellum (just above the brainstem). That is to say, the front of the brain, the back of the brain and the tube that leads to the brain. Tumors affect each area of the brain differently. If a tumor is plaguing a dog’s brain, there is a general series of symptoms that can take place depending on the location of the tumor. It is wise to suspect a brain tumor if your dog is over 5 years old and has developed any negative neurological signs. A seizure is one of the key signs that your dog is suffering from a neurological disorder. Other visible neurological disorders might be the loss of balance, wobbly walking, difficulty swallowing, facial paralysis, head tilting leaning in a direction, loss of sight or hearing, loss of balance, head-shaking, difficulty jumping, spastic motions, eyes opening and closing strangely, weakness, a general lack of proper coordination, or even paralysis. If any of these behaviors are exhibited with an older dog, it is a good idea to at least check-in with a vet and see what might be afoot.
Neurological disorders are rather easy to define, but there is a subset of other behaviors that could start that would take a much more discerning owner to connect the dots in a brain tumor direction. Some of these symptoms might include the loss of memories (not following commands so well), an obvious onset of depression, an increased or decreased appetite or thirst, uninspired aggression, vomiting, irritability, loss of bladder control,, and even can all be potential signals. Sometimes the dog acts like they are actually in pain, whimpering. One of the most interesting symptoms however, is the pressing of their head against hard surfaces (possibly to ease pressure?).
There are no known preventative measures for a brain tumor. They just happen. Age seems to be a common denominator though, with 95% of canine mengiomas (slow growing tumors that put pressure on the brain) occurring in dogs over 7 years old. Sometimes, the dog might go for a substantial amount of time with a tumor on their brain unbeknownst to the dog’s owner. Because such tumors are slow growing, the brain is in a position to adjust and possibly offset negative symptoms for a period of time.
It is unfortunate that dogs can’t talk and owners are left to make a determination if the behavior is serious based on their dog’s behavior. A dog owner shouldn’t blame themselves or their lifestyle for the tumor. Nor should they hold it against themselves for not knowing sooner. The onset of behaviors such as those mentioned in the previous paragraph can happen quickly or slowly over a period of time. Furthermore, a benefit to your dog is the fact that your dog has no idea what is happening.
The only way to truly be sure that your dog has a tumor on his brain is to have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) administered, which is basically a brain scan. A tissue biopsy is needed to determine if the tumor is cancerous. It is also a good idea to get your dog a complete physical and some routine blood work. Without treatment the average survival time for a brain tumor is 6-10 months. With some treatment, a dog’s life can be increased up to 2 more years. Solutions are surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and Palliative (pain relieving, usually steroids such as dexamethasone, prednisone, and methylprednisolone to stop the swelling) care, also, a regimen of anti-epileptic drugs to control seizures. Possible solutions are surgery (where the tumor is cut out), radiation therapy, and chemotherapy
While there isn’t a preventative method or even a clear-cut definition as to the causes of brain tumors in dogs, we can use the causes for human brain tumors as a template. While some may be a bit extreme, the general assumption is that brain tumors in humans are caused by the following: genetics, radiation exposure, serious head injuries, pesticides, cancer-causing solvents, electromagnetic fields, and possibly even nitrosamines (found in processed meats). The theories are so broad that some feel that brain tumors could be the result of any number or combination of diet, environment, genetic, chemical or immune system factors.
One of the ugliest things a dog owner can go through with their pet is dealing with a brain tumor. There are a lot of signs that point to the existence of a brain tumor, but the diagnosis is what a dog owner needs. Unfortunately, the solutions are merely extensions in time and not an absolute solution. There are several different methods for treating a dog with a brain tumor, and hopefully someday there will be more than just a list of symptoms and methods to manage such a disease.