There’s not much that can top bringing home a new fur baby — who can resist puppy breath and kitten cuddles? But the age at which most youngsters come home (6 to 8 weeks old) is also an important time for discovering congenital health problems. Hydrocephalus, or “water on the brain,” is one such condition.
Hydrocephalus is an accumulation of excess fluid inside the skull, which becomes dangerous when pressure builds up on the brain. It can occur in any dog or cat breed but is most often seen in small dogs with dome-shaped heads, such as Chihuahuas, Pomeranians and Boston Terriers. These pups may be normal at birth, but usually by 8 to 12 weeks, pet parents may notice subtle signs that something isn’t quite right:
• Abnormally positioned eyes: Eyes that point downward (and sometimes outward), otherwise known as the “setting sun sign”
• Learning disabilities: Abnormal behavior such as not picking up litter box habits or having trouble house training
• Head pressing: Behavior involving pressing the head into a corner or other hard object
• Seizures: These can occur for other reasons, but hydrocephalus may also be to blame
If you notice these symptoms, call your veterinarian. He or she will look for other signs, including an open fontanelle (or soft spot on the top of the head), to confirm hydrocephalus. Mild cases can generally be managed with medication and tend to have a good prognosis. Pets with more severe cases often require surgical placement of a shunt to redirect excess fluid to another part of the body, relieving pressure in the skull. Your vet may refer you to a surgeon or neurologist to help your new furry family member find relief.