It’s the diagnosis no pet parent wants to receive, and fortunately is an uncommon one, but what can we do if our dog is diagnosed with a brain tumour?
Brain tumours can be primary (starting in the brain) or secondary (spreading from another part of the body)
They tend to occur in middle aged or older dogs
They can happen to any dog, but some breeds seem to be more affected
They may cause fits (seizures) that start suddenly in older age, and a range of other symptoms
Sadly, they often cannot be cured
There are treatments that can extend the dog’s life and give them a better quality of life
Like other tumours, the sooner they are found, the better - if you are worried about your dog, speak to your vet
What do we know about brain tumours in dogs?
Brain tumours are uncommon in dogs, however can be a devastating disease if diagnosed. If your dog is middle-aged or older, and suddenly develops symptoms that can be linked to the brain and nervous system, your vet may suspect a brain tumour.
Brain tumours are either primary or secondary. Primary brain tumours grow from the tissues of the brain itself, whereas secondary tumours have spread from another part of the body. Secondary tumours make up around half of all brain tumours in dogs.
Unfortunately, brain tumours may occur in any breed, and at any age, though breeds that anecdotally seem more likely to get them are: Boxer, Scottish Terrier, Golden Retriever, English Sheep Dog and Doberman Pinscher.
The most frequent (median) age for diagnosis in dogs is 9 years.
What are the symptoms of brain tumours in dogs?
The most common signs are fits (seizures) that start suddenly in an older dog... Other symptoms may include:
Wobbly, ‘drunken’ gait
Nausea and vomiting
How are brain tumours in dogs diagnosed?
If a brain tumour is suspected, special imaging tests are required, including a CT or MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis, as the soft tissue structure of the brain cannot be seen on an x-ray.
These imaging tests are often done through a veterinary neurology (brain and nerve) specialist, so your dog may need to be referred to a specialist centre. Once the veterinary neurologist has completed their exam and tests, they can determine the best treatment or management options for your pet, depending on what is found.
Blood tests, x-rays and ultrasound may be used to rule out tumours elsewhere in the body. The only way of confirming a diagnosis of a brain tumour and determining the type of tumour is through a ‘tissue biopsy’ of the mass found on CT or MRI. This means taking a sample of the mass, and sending it to a laboratory for them to examine it.
Is there anything that can be done to treat brain tumours?
Sadly, brain tumours cannot be cured in most animals, so most treatment options are dedicated to improving your pet’s quality of life.
Treatment and management options are dependent on where and what type of tumour it is, and some of these treatment options may not be appropriate depending on these results. Options include:
Supportive medical treatment: anti-inflammatory medication such as steroids, and anti-seizure medication, can help improve the symptoms by reducing the swelling in the brain, and preventing further damage from uncontrolled fitting.
Neurosurgery: the ultimate goal of surgery is to remove the entire mass however this is often impossible with brain tumours. However, removing as much as possible may help radiotherapy work better. Whether or not surgery can be done will also depend on where the tumour is in the brain. If the tumour is so deep within the brain that removing it would mean damaging lots of healthy brain tissue, it may not be the right option for your pet.Radiation (radio) therapy: high doses of xrays are used to kill cancer cells. This rarely completely destroys the tumour, however can extend your pet’s life and offer a better quality of life in the time that they have.
How much longer will the treatment options give my dog?
This can vary a lot from dog to dog, but on average:
Supportive medical treatment: 1-6 months
Surgery and radiotherapy combined: 12-20 months
Radiotherapy alone: 8-14 months
Is there anything I can do to help my dog?
You are the most important human(s) in your dog's life, and you know them best. You can help by bringing your dog for regular follow up assessments with your vet. Keeping an eye that your dog is still eating well, engaging with the family and enjoying the activities they normally like to do, is so important, and if you are concerned these things are changing, let your vet know. If you feel that your pet is in pain or suffering, your vet will always be willing to discuss their quality of life, as it is always a very important conversation to have. It’s a hard thing to discuss, but together with your vet, you’ll make the best decision for your dog, and you.
If you require any emotional support or have any question please do not hesitate to contact one of our Vets at MyDogDoc and alongside your amazing Veterinary Surgeon we can help support you through this journey.