Understanding Dog Brain Tumors and Knowing When to Consider Euthanasia

Dog Brain Tumors

Dogs are more than just companions; they are family members and best pals. They bring us happiness, warmth, and love. That's why seeing kids suffer from any sickness, especially one that affects their brain, is painful.

Brain tumors are one of the most serious and challenging health problems that can affect dogs. They can cause seizures, behavioral changes, vision problems, and other neurological signs that can reduce the quality of life of your dog and make you feel helpless and hopeless.

In this article, we will explain what brain tumors are, what causes them, how they are diagnosed and treated, and what are the prognosis and quality of life for dogs with brain tumors. 

We will also discuss how to cope with the emotional stress of having a dog with a brain tumor, when and how to decide on euthanasia for your dog, what are the options and procedures for euthanasia, and how to grieve and heal after losing your dog.

What are Dog Brain Tumors and What Causes Them?

A brain tumour is an abnormal development of bodily tissue within or near the brain. Brain tumors are classified into two types: primary and secondary. Primary brain tumors arise from the brain's tissues or the meninges, which are the membranes that envelop the brain.

The term "secondary brain tumor" refers to a tumor that has spread from another part of the body to the brain or from nearby tissues, such as the cranial nerves.

According to Charlotte Hacker, Ph.D., at PetMD, “There are no known direct causes of brain tumors in dogs. Research suggests that a combination of factors, such as diet, surrounding environment, genetics, and immune system health, may be involved. Brain tumors can occur at any age but typically happen in dogs over the age of 5.”

It seems that some dog breeds are more likely than others to develop brain tumors. The Boxer, Golden Retriever, Doberman Pinscher, Scottish Terrier, and Old English Sheepdog are some of the breeds that appear to be particularly predisposed to developing brain tumors in general. 

Meningioma, a type of benign brain tumor that develops in the membranes surrounding the brain, is more common in Collies and other dogs with long, narrow heads and noses. 

Pituitary gland tumors and glial cell tumors, which arise from the structural cells of the nervous system, are more common in pugs and other short-nosed breeds.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Dog Brain Tumors?

Brain tumors in dogs can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on the type, location, and size of the tumor. Some of the common signs to look out for include:

• Seizures: One of the earliest and most typical signs of brain tumors in dogs is this. A few seconds to several minutes can pass between mild and severe seizures. They can also be focal or generalized, affecting the entire body or just one particular area. Seizures may be a sign that the tumor is inflaming or pressing on the brain tissue.

• Behavioral changes: Brain tumors can cause personality, mood, or cognitive changes in dogs. They might escalate their level of aggression, anxiety, depression, or confusion. Additionally, they might exhibit disorientation-related behaviors like aimless wandering, head pressing, or blank stares. Behavior modifications may be a sign that the tumor is affecting the brain regions in charge of emotions, memory, or learning.

• Vision problems: Dogs with brain tumors may have difficulty seeing clearly, or may lose their vision partially or completely. They may bump into objects, miss their food bowl, or fail to recognize familiar people or animals. Vision problems can indicate that the tumor is affecting the optic nerve or the parts of the brain involved in visual processing.

• Balance and coordination issues: Dogs with brain tumors may have trouble walking, standing, or maintaining their posture. They may stumble, fall, tilt their head, or circle around. They may also experience vestibular disease, which is a condition that causes dizziness, nausea, and nystagmus (rapid eye movements). Balance and coordination issues can indicate that the tumor is affecting the cerebellum or the brainstem, which is responsible for regulating movement and equilibrium.

• Other physical symptoms: Dogs with brain tumors may also show other signs of discomfort or pain, such as panting, drooling, difficulty swallowing, weight loss, or chronic lethargy. These symptoms can indicate that the tumor is affecting the dog’s overall health and well-being.

How are Dog Brain Tumors Diagnosed and Treated?

A brain tumor in an older dog may be suspected based on aberrant neurological indications. The veterinarian will begin with a thorough physical examination to look for any signs that something is wrong with your dog's brain, spinal cord, or nerves.

To rule out other causes of seizures or odd behavior, bloodwork such as a complete blood count and serum blood chemistry will most likely be performed. Although routine bloodwork cannot detect a brain tumor, it can rule out other potential explanations for your dog's symptoms.

Chest X-rays and abdomen ultrasounds will almost certainly be recommended to determine whether the cancer has spread. Approximately 55% of brain tumors do not begin in the brain but rather spread there from somewhere else. Even if the brain tumor is a primary tumor, it could have spread to other parts of the body.

The definitive diagnosis of a brain tumor can only be made by imaging techniques such as MRI or CT scan. These tests can show the presence, location, size, type, and extent of the tumor. They can also help determine if surgery or radiation therapy is feasible or not.

The treatment options for a dog with a brain tumor depend on several factors such as the type, location, size, growth rate, and spread of the tumor; the age, health status, and preferences of the dog; and the availability, cost, and risks of each treatment modality.

There are three main ways of treating brain tumors in dogs:

Neurosurgery: This involves removing all or part of the tumor surgically by an experienced, board-certified veterinary surgeon. This option may not be available for all types or locations of tumors and may have complications such as bleeding, infection, or neurological damage.

Radiation therapy: This involves using high-energy rays to kill or shrink the tumor cells. This can be done alone or in combination with other treatments. Radiation therapy may require multiple sessions and may have side effects such as hair loss, skin irritation, nausea, or fatigue.

Chemotherapy: This involves using drugs to kill or slow down the growth of the tumor cells. This can be done orally, intravenously, or intrathecally (into the spinal fluid). Chemotherapy may have side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or low blood cell counts.

Other supportive treatments that may be used for dogs with brain tumors include:

Steroids: These are anti-inflammatory drugs that can help reduce the swelling and pressure caused by the tumor. Steroids may also slow down the growth of some types of tumors. Steroids may have side effects such as increased thirst, urination, appetite, weight gain, or infections.

Anticonvulsants: These are drugs that can help prevent or control seizures caused by the tumor. Anticonvulsants may have side effects such as sedation, liver toxicity, or blood disorders.

Pain medications: These are drugs that can help relieve pain or discomfort caused by the tumor or its treatment. Pain medications may have side effects such as stomach ulcers, kidney damage, or bleeding disorders.

Euthanasia Considerations for Brain Tumors in Dogs

One of the most difficult and emotional decisions a dog owner can face is determining when to euthanize their beloved pet suffering from a brain tumor. Euthanasia is the act of ending a dog’s life humanely and painlessly, usually by administering an overdose of anesthetic drugs.

Euthanasia can be considered a last resort when the dog’s quality of life is severely compromised and there is no hope of recovery or improvement.

The choice of when to euthanize a dog is ultimately up to the owner, in consultation with their veterinarian and family members. There is no specific right or wrong time, as each case is different and depends on various factors, such as the dog’s symptoms, personality, and preferences. However, some of the signs that may indicate that euthanasia is a reasonable option include:

  1. Frequent or severe seizures that are not controlled by medications
  2. Persistent or unbearable pain that is not relieved by medications
  3. Loss of appetite or weight that leads to dehydration or malnutrition
  4. Loss of mobility or function that prevents the dog from performing normal activities or enjoying life
  5. Loss of vision or hearing that causes distress or confusion
  6. Loss of bladder or bowel control that causes discomfort or infection
  7. Loss of interest or joy in things that used to make the dog happy
  8. Loss of dignity or self-respect that causes the dog to feel ashamed or depressed

If you are considering euthanasia for your dog, it is important to discuss it with your veterinarian and family members. Your veterinarian can help you assess your dog’s condition and prognosis, as well as explain the euthanasia procedure and aftercare options. 

Your family members can help you cope with your emotions and support your decision. You should also prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for saying goodbye to your dog, and cherish the time you have left with them.


Brain tumors in dogs are a serious and often fatal condition that can affect the dog’s neurological functions and quality of life. The symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and euthanasia considerations for dogs with brain tumors vary depending on the type, grade, size, location, and stage of the tumor, as well as the dog’s age, health, and tolerance. 

If you suspect that your dog has a brain tumor, it is vital to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible and follow their recommendations. If you decide to euthanize your dog, it is essential to do it with compassion and respect and remember the good times you shared with them.

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