Heather Puksta, DVM 

VCA Southwest Freeway


Hydrocephalus is a condition that can happen in both puppies and kittens.  Hydrocephalus (commonly known as water on the brain) is actually an increased accumulation of Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the cranium.  There are three ways this can happen: overproduction of CSF fluid, decreased absorption of CSF fluid or obstruction of the outflow of CSF fluid (also the most common form).  There is congenital vs acquired and obstructive vs non obstructive forms.  Some breeds of cats are more susceptible to developing hydrocephalus including Siamese, Persian, Oriental shorthairs and Toyger breeds and some dog breeds are predisposed such as those with naturally domed heads including but not limited to Chihuahua’s, Pomeranian’s, Yorkshire terriers and bulldog breeds 

Congenital hydrocephalus is present soon after birth and often there is no definitive cause for the malformations.  Causes can include viral or infectious diseases, nutritional deficiencies, trauma, anatomic defects, and many more.  Hydrocephalus is characterized by a pet with an enlarged dome shaped head, often have open fontanelles on the skull and a “sun setting” appearance with their eyes.  They may have neurologic signs or behavioral abnormalities including circling or pacing, seizures, inability to find the litter box or learning disabilities.  

A veterinarian may recommend radiographs of the skull and would be looking for a thin skull bones and diffuse “ground glass appearance” on skull radiographs, diagnosis may also be made with ultrasound, contrast radiography or best diagnosed with advanced imaging with a neurologist such as an MRI. 

Hydrocephalus can usually be diagnosed based on appearance, behavior, radiographs, ultrasound or advanced imaging.  If you suspect that your pet may have hydrocephalus, a veterinary visit is warranted for thorough exam and initial diagnostics.   It will then be determined if your pet is a candidate for medical treatment and or a neurology consultation for further diagnostics and/or a surgical procedure to place shunts to help drain the fluid.   

In the case of Charleigh (April edition), she was initially diagnosed with hydrocephalus at her primary veterinary doctor, she was started on prednisolone to decrease CSF production and to decrease inflammation, diuretics to decrease CSF fluid and omeprazole which is a proton pump inhibitor and decreases CSF production.  She was then referred to and seen by a neurologist at a specialty veterinary hospital for advanced imaging and had a consultation for placing permanent shunts to allow outflow of the CSF fluid.  At this time, Charleigh is responding to oral treatment with steroids and omeprazole.  She is growing, learning and making advances every day.  She has an occasional seizure and has undergone surgery to repair a defect in her eye to help her see better and without painful eyelashes rubbing on her eye.