Brain Cancer in Dogs

A Pet Owners Guide to Brain Cancer in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Katelyn Son
By Katelyn Son
Medically reviewed by Natalie H Ragland, DVM
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What is Brain Cancer in Dogs?What is Brain Cancer in Dogs

Brain cancer in dogs is a tumor that develops due to the uncontrolled growth of cells in the dog’s brain. According to a study, brain cancer in dogs accounts for 2-5% of all canine cancer cases.

There are two main types of brain tumors in dogs:

  • Primary brain tumors. Primary brain tumors start within the brain tissue. Common brain tumors in dogs are gliomas, lymphomas, ependymomas, meningiomas, choroid plexus tumors, and adenocarcinomas (pituitary gland cancer).
  • Secondary brain tumors. Secondary brain tumors in dogs are those that start in other organs and spread to the brain. Therefore, secondary brain tumors in dogs cause metastasis (spread/infiltrate other organs). They can also arise from nearby structures (such as cranial nerves).

Brain cancer in dogs is hard to diagnose. Sadly, by the time the lesions start triggering signs and symptoms, the condition is already advanced. However, with advances in veterinary medicine, there are treatment options for some types of brain tumors in dogs.

Are Dogs in Pain With Brain Tumors? 

Yes, dogs with brain tumors can experience high levels of pain. However, the presence of pain and its intensity depends on the brain tumor type as well as its stage.

Dogs with brain tumors tend to tilt their heads frequently. Head tilting in dogs is one of the telltale signs of headaches (which are triggered by the brain lesion).

What Causes Brain Tumors in Dogs? 

The exact cause of brain tumors in dogs is hard to determine. Similar to other types of tumors, brain tumors are triggered by a combination of risk factors such as:

  • Age. Older dogs are at a higher than average risk of developing brain cancer. According to VCA Hospitals, most dogs diagnosed with brain cancer are over five years of age. Just because brain cancer is more common in older dogs does not mean it cannot develop in puppies and adult dogs.
  • Breed. Certain breeds are more likely to develop canine brain tumors. Such breeds are Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Boston Terriers, and Doberman Pinschers. Long and narrow-headed dogs (Collies) are predisposed to meningiomas (tumors of the meninges), while short-nosed dogs (Pugs) are prone to gliomas and pituitary gland tumors.

What are the Symptoms of a Dog Having a Brain Tumor? 

What are the Symptoms of a Dog Having a Brain Tumor

Dogs with brain cancer manifest neurological signs and symptoms. Here is a more detailed overview of the clinical presentation of brain cancer in dogs.

  • Seizures. This is a very common clinical sign of brain cancer in dogs. If your dog all of a sudden experiences a seizure, this may be a sign of a brain tumor – consult your veterinarian immediately.
  • Head tilt. You may notice that your dog tilts its head while walking or standing. This is a sign of head or neck pain that is caused by the presence of lesions on the brain.
  • Loss of vision. Your dog’s sight might become impaired due to the presence of a brain tumor. The dog may bump into things more often or walk in a zigzag motion.
  • Change in behavior. Since the brain controls all behavior, including emotion, intelligence, and temperament, you may notice certain behavioral changes that occur. 
  • Loss of balance. Dogs with brain tumors sometimes exhibit ataxia. This is where they may lose integrity in their walk resulting in walking in circles, staggering, and falling.  

In addition to these specific neurology-related signs and symptoms, brain cancer in dogs can also trigger some non-specific issues like reduced appetite, vomiting, weight loss, and lethargy (decreased energy levels).

If you notice any of the above signs and symptoms in a dog, see your vet immediately for a definitive diagnosis and treatment if necessary.

Diagnosing Brain Cancer in Dogs 

Due to the sensitive location, the diagnosis of a brain tumor is complicated. However, as in all cases, the veterinarian will begin with a full physical examination, followed by a more specialized neurologic examination.

For a definitive diagnosis, the veterinarian will order advanced imaging techniques such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and/or  CT scans (computed tomography). A cerebrospinal fluid test may be performed to rule out other diseases of the central nervous system.

Based on the findings, the veterinarian will acquire a biopsy. Brain biopsies are usually done once the tumor is removed. The biopsy will reveal more detailed information about the brain tumor, i.e., its properties and staging (metastasis rate).

To evaluate the dog’s overall health and whether they are an ideal surgery candidate, the vet will order pre-operative bloodwork (complete blood count and biochemistry profiles), urinalysis, chest x-rays, abdominal ultrasound, etc.

How do You Treat Brain Cancer in Dogs? 

How do You Treat Brain Cancer in Dogs

The best treatments for brain cancer in dogs are neurosurgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Neurosurgery. Surgery has the best outcome of all treatment options. However, based on the tumor location, it is not always possible. In some cases, a neurologist might recommend surgery even if cancer has spread to improve neurologic signs and for palliative reasons.

Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is also effective, especially in dogs whose brain cancer has spread to other body parts. Drugs used for chemotherapy include Hydroxyurea, Lomustine, and Cytosar. Chemo can be used in conjunction with neurosurgery.

Radiation Therapy. Radiation is often used as a treatment option for canine brain cancer. A special type of radiation therapy known as stereotactic radiation is helpful for brain tumors since it concentrates the treatment on the diseased area, minimizing damage to surrounding cells.

Steroids. Brain cancer can cause cerebral edema (fluid build-up around the brain) ) as a secondary effect. In such cases, vets may prescribe corticosteroids. Steroids can also slow down tumor growth and, in some dogs, lead to temporary improvement of the clinical signs.

Anticonvulsants. Another component of brain cancer treatment in dogs is the management of seizures. Your veterinarian might recommend anticonvulsants such as phenobarbital, gabapentin, benzodiazepines, and valproic acid.

In addition to the mainstream strategy, you can use a holistic cancer treatment. The holistic treatment will improve the dog’s quality of life and help with some of the regular treatment’s side effects.

Ask your vet about holistic therapies such as diet, physical activity, physiotherapy, herbs,  and CBD.

Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil. CBD has positive effects on the dog’s health. Anxiety and inflammation relief would be the most outstanding for a dog with brain cancer. When choosing CBD for your dog, only go for pet-safe vet-approved brands such as Honest Paws.

What can I do to Prevent Brain Cancer in Dogs? 

There is no specific thing you can do to prevent brain cancer in dogs. However, you may be able  to lower your dog’s risk factors by ensuring the following:

  • Providing a Healthy Diet. Provide your dog with mostly whole foods and minimize the number of processed foods in her diet. Also, add fruit and vegetables at least three times a week to provide your dog with some antioxidants.
  • Regular Physical Activity. Encourage your dog to partake in physical exercises such as walking, running, and playing outdoors. This helps to maintain a healthy body weight and improves general well-being.
  • Use Pet-Safe Products. Certain products might contain carcinogens, especially if they are not designed for pets. Only use products made for pets, and when unsure, seek your veterinarian’s advice.

As a pet owner, you need to provide adequate treatment in the unfortunate event that your dog gets brain cancer. The treatment for brain cancer in dogs is very expensive (the surgery alone may cost up to $10.000).

To prepare yourself for such an expense, sign up for a good pet health insurance plan. With OneVet, you get $3000 in emergency funds, 24/7 access to a licensed vet, and coverage for all pre-existing conditions for up to 6 dogs, all for only $19.99 a month.

How Long do Dogs Live With Brain Cancer? 

How Long do Dogs Live With Brain Cancer

The median survival time for dogs with brain cancer depends on the type of tumor and its stage. According to Pet Cure Oncology, the life expectancy for dogs with glioma is 12 to 14 months and for dogs with meningioma is 20 to 24 months.

What are the Final Stages of Brain Tumors in Dogs?

The final stages of brain cancer in dogs can be challenging. As the disease progresses, new signs begin to develop. Usually, they have a detrimental effect on the dog’s quality of life.

Eventually, brain cancer in dogs might induce coma leading to death. If your dog is living with too much pain, the best thing you can do is consider euthanasia.