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Hydrocephalus and Chihuahuas

Hydrocephalus and Chihuahuas

What is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus literally means “water on the brain” and is a condition associated with several small breed dogs, including the Chihuahua.

Whether you own a short or long haired Chihuahua doesn’t make a difference as both types of the breed are equally prone to the disorder.

Hydrocephalus is usually something a Chihuahua is born with and if the condition is severe enough the puppy may be born dead or live only a short time after birth. 

In this disorder there is an excess of cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities of the brain. 

This causes increased pressure inside the skull which can enlarge the head and cause severe pain to the dog.

Signs and Symptoms

There are some telltale signs of hydrocephalus to watch out for but diagnosis must be done by a professional to rule out any other disorder.  Usually a Chi with hydrocephalus has an abnormally large head for their body size and the eyes will be wide-set and protruding (most Chis have large eyes but protruding eyes will show a lot of white at the corners of the eyes).

Hydrocephalus puts pressure on the brain and results in abnormal brain development and activity.  Watch for mental and physical slowness, blindness, abnormal behaviour, seizures or your Chi walking in circles.  Other symptoms include slow growth rates, lack of coordination and eyes that turn outwards (as opposed to cross-eyed).

Chis with hydrocephalus often have soft spots in their skull bone.  There is another condition called a molera where Chihuahuas have one soft spot on their forehead much like a human baby has an open skull at birth.  Chihuahuas with moleras do not have hydrocephalus but a Chi with hydrocephalus may have several moleras.  Moleras have often been misdiagnosed as hydrocephalus by many owners and even a few veterinarians.

Treatment

If you have been given a diagnosis of hydrocephalus for your Chi puppy the prognosis is often grim.  However, the disorder occurs is varying degrees of severity and if your Chihuahua has a mild case they may live with the condition for quite a while.

Hydrocephalus cannot be cured but there are a couple of treatment options.  Medications including steroids can be prescribed with varying degrees of success.  The option to treat depends on the severity of the hydrocephalus and whether or not your Chi is in pain.  Prolonging a painful situation for your Chi with little or no hope of helping the condition is cruel.

In some cases surgery is an option.  A shunt can be placed in the head to improve drainage of fluid from the brain.  The success rate of this surgery is low and may not prolong your Chihuahua’s life span.  The other deterrent to undergoing surgery is cost.  A veterinary specialist will probably have to perform the surgery and it can prove to be very costly. 

What Are Your Options?

If your Chihuahua puppy has been diagnosed with hydrocephalus you have few options.  You need to weigh the possible benefits of treatment or the risk of surgery against your Chi’s particular situation.  Ask yourself if your Chi is in pain and whether or not it is cruel to prolong that pain.

If you got your chi puppy from a reputable breeder they need to be made aware of the diagnosis.  They may need to remove one or more dogs from their breeding program to prevent this condition from occurring in future litters.  Breeders will often offer to refund your money or replace your puppy with another one.  Unfortunately this does little to ease your pain.

The unfortunate reality of a diagnosis of hydrocephalus is that euthanasia is often your only option.  Choosing to do what is best for your little one needs to take precedence over your feelings or sense of loss.

 Hydrocephalus and Chihuahuas
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