I am lucky to work in an exceptional veterinary practice called Home to Heaven. I am confident in saying that we provide excellent care to both our patients and clients during especially difficult times. The practice owner, Dr. Kathleen Cooney, is a leader in end-of-life veterinary care, and works hard to spread knowledge about the latest advances in the field to both veterinarians and pet owners.

To that end, she has put together some excellent brochures about the conditions that we deal with most commonly, and I thought I’d share some of that information with you over the next couple of months. Here’s the first installment.

What is a Brain Tumor?

Cancer affecting the brain is common in older dogs and cats but is rarely seen in younger animals. Tumors can arise directly from the brain or its surrounding tissues, or be caused by spread of tumors that originated elsewhere in the body. The most common form of primary brain tumor in dogs and cats is known as a meningioma, originating from the membrane that covers the brain (meninges). This tumor type is usually slow-growing and amenable to treatment. Other types of tumors include gliomas, choroid plexus adenomas, pituitary adenomas or adenocarcinomas, and others. Most animals present to their veterinarian for seizures or behavioral changes, such as loss of learned behavior or depression. Diagnosis is determined by a complete physical and neurological examination and/or advanced imaging (MRI or CT).

How is Brain Tumor Treated?

The options for treating brain tumors include surgical removal, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and palliative treatment of the symptoms.

What Symptoms Can Present as a Brain Tumor Progresses?

Early stages:

  • Depression
  • Head tilt, loss of balance
  • Cranial nerve deficits (decreased or loss of vision, difficulty swallowing, voice change)
  • Seizures
  • Weakness
  • Strange behaviors
  • Gain or loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

Late stages:

  • Persistent early stage symptoms
  • Reclusive behavior
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Pacing/circling
  • Head pressing against a hard surface
  • Inability to stand
  • Worsening seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Coma

Crisis —  Immediate veterinary assistance needed regardless of the disease:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Prolonged seizures
  • Uncontrollable vomiting/diarrhea
  • Sudden collapse
  • Profuse bleeding – internal or external
  • Crying/whining from pain*

*It should be noted that most animals will instinctually hide their pain. Vocalization of any sort that is out of the ordinary for your pet may indicate that their pain and anxiety has become too much for them to bear. If your pet vocalizes due to pain or anxiety, please consult with your veterinarian immediately.

What is the Prognosis for a Brain Tumor?

It is important to note that most brain tumors are treatable, but not curable. The mean survival time for pets with untreated brain tumors is relatively short. Dogs have an excellent prognosis following complete excision of solitary cerebral meningiomas. Radiation therapy is associated with a better prognosis than surgery alone or conservative management. Brain tumors that are not treated or that are aggressive will result in progressive disease. A personalized treatment plan is important to slow the progression of cancer. Talk to your veterinarian regarding the best treatment protocol for your pet.

© 2011 Home to Heaven, P.C. Content may not be reproduced without written consent from Home to Heaven, P.C.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Toby by Thomas Hawk / via Flickr