The life expectancy for dogs with a brain tumor can be difficult to answer as there are multiple factors which come into play. Some could live up to a year or more, while others may only have a few weeks remaining. Furthermore, there are generally a few concrete conclusions veterinarians can make when it comes to determining the direct cause of brain tumors. Because both environmental and genetic factors come into play, it becomes extremely difficult to pinpoint a cause. Though as a dog owner, it can be devastating finding out your pup has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
Symptoms of a brain tumor in dogs can vary. The following are initial symptoms that your dog may display if they have a brain tumor:
- Altered behavior
- Abnormal pupil size
- Decreased cognitive function
- Acute seizures
- Difficulty walking
- Hearing loss
Proper diagnosis begins with a thorough examination by your veterinarian. This may include examining the pupils and their response to light, evaluating limb extension, taking blood work, x-rays to show if the cancer has spread to the lungs, and undergoing a CT or MRI.
Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, there are a few methods of treatment which can be followed. More often than not, emergency treatment is required. The reason being, dogs commonly present with acute seizures resulting from the tumor itself. Slow growing tumors can cause pressure changes within the brain which can lead to seizures. The following steps are typically taken to treat and stop the triggers of canine seizures:
- Placing an IV catheter
- Checking blood sugar
- Administering IV anti-seizure medication to stop the seizures
- Providing medication and initiating comfort measures to reduce brain swelling
Once seizures are under control, there are five general treatment options for the tumor itself:
- Medical Management: This option focuses on managing the pain in dogs and other symptoms associated with the tumor in an effort to increase the dog’s quality of life. Unfortunately, this is a method of symptom management and thus the life expectancy of pups under this method of treatment is merely a few months.
- Traditional Radiation and Chemotherapy: Certain veterinary hospitals offer radiation and chemotherapy for dogs, which requires general anesthesia to help radiate the brain. Under a typical radiation treatment schedule, each treatment lasts a couple minutes and will occur daily, five days a week for up to three consecutive weeks. This method may help extend your dog’s life by several months, depending on how they respond to the treatment. However, albeit rare, there is also potential the radiation impacts healthy brain tissue too, which could cause negative side effects.
- Brain Surgery: Brain surgery for dogs is not nearly as advanced as brain surgery for humans. Dog’s must be put under anesthesia when undergoing this kind of invasive procedure. Upon undergoing anesthesia, the surgeon will take out the tumor from underneath. If successful, this method also yields the potential to increase your pup’s life expectancy. However, it can be costly and is typically only done by specific, certified surgeons. This method is also not without its risks, which include worsening seizures and surgical complications.
- Stereotactic Radiation Therapy: This form of radiation therapy is highly specialized and involves brief anesthesia for only a few days. It directly targets the tumor, rather than the entire brain (including its healthy tissue). Naturally, it has a greater chance of success than traditional radiation, but it can be quite expensive.
- Euthanasia: While it may garner mixed opinions, euthanasia is nonetheless an option some dog owners elect to proceed with due to the severity of the symptoms and a bleak prognosis.
Brain Tumors in Dogs: Life Expectancy and Prognosis
The prognosis varies depending on the method of treatment pursued. The type of brain tumor also plays a role in the prognosis. Of course, determining the type can be a catch-22 in a way because it often cannot be determined until after surgery has been performed and a piece of the tumor has been analyzed. Invasive, fast-growing tumors can have a poor prognosis, while other less invasive tumors have a much better prognosis.
At the end of the day, it’s recommended to consult with your veterinarian, in addition to a specialist. Understanding the side effects of specific medications, how much certain exams like an MRI or CT costs or if a referral is required to see a specialist, are all valuable pieces of information. Remember, a simple consultation does not sign your dog up for any one treatment, it simply allows you to weigh your options and understand the prognosis associated with each method, prior to making this important decision.
Just as each pup is unique, so are the treatments options. There’s so much to consider when determining the best path for both your dog and your family, but you can feel prepared knowing that you now understand all options available to you.
“Brain Tumors.” Marietta Vet Clinic, Accessed 2 Jan. 2016. www.mariettavetclinic.com/brain-tumors.
“Brain Tumors in Dogs.” Pet Health Network, Accessed 2 Jan. 2018. www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-diseases-conditions-a-z/brain-tumors-dogs.
“Can Dogs Live with Brain Tumors? – Wag!” Wag!, 15 May 2018, Accessed 2 Jan. 2018. www.wagwalking.com/sense/can-dogs-live-with-brain-tumors.