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At present the only options for treatment of brain tumours in dogs and cats are to improve the animal's quality of life and help them to live for as long as possible. Unfortunately all brain tumours are eventually fatal diseases.
What is a brain tumour?
A tumour (or cancer) is a growth of abnormal cells within a body tissue. Tumours in the brain can develop from brain cells (primary brain tumour) that have started to grow uncontrollable or the tumour may be the result of spread of a tumour elsewhere in the body. Common primary brain tumours include tumour arising from cell forming the lining of the surface of the brain (meningioma), the lining of ventricle (ependymoma), the choroid plexus (choroid plexus tumour) or the brain parenchyma itself (glioma).
Fragments of tumours in dogs and cats elsewhere in the body can break off from their primary source and travel in the blood to the brain where they settle and start to grow. The signs seen in animals with brain tumours are usually the result of the tumour growing and causing pressure on the surrounding normal brain tissue. This causes brain damage and inflammation.
What are the signs of a brain tumour?
Brain tumours in dogs and cats can cause a wide variety of clinical signs which vary according to the part of the brain that is affected. Often the first sign to develop is seizures (fits). These seizures are often very severe causing the dogto collapse, salivate profusely, thrash around and occasionally void its bowels and bladder. Unfortunately, these seizures are likely to be permanent. Other signs commonly seen are blindness, changes in the dog's personality, profound lethargy, circling and disorientation. Some people may notice that their dog appears to have a 'headache'. As with seizures, some of these signs may be permanent whatever the treatment course that you decide upon.
How will my vet know that my dog has a brain tumour?
Your vet may suspect that your pet has a brain tumour because of the signs you describe.
The brain cannot be seen on standard X-rays so special diagnostic tests are needed to allow your vet to take pictures of your pet's brain. Diagnosis of brain tumours in dogs and cats is based on imaging the brain either with a CT-scan or an MRI-scan. Although these tests are very good for detecting the presence of a mass in the brain, they are not good at identifying the exact nature of this mass (ie whether it is a tumour, inflammation or even bleeding within the brain).
A sample of the fluid from around the brain may need to be taken to rule-out an inflammation of the brain and, in rare cases this can reveal the presence of a certain type of tumour called lymphoma. In order to confirm the exact cause of the mass and, if it is a tumour to find out how malignant it is, a tissue sample must be collected. This sample can be obtained either by inserting a biopsy needle through the skull. If surgical removal of the mass is planned a sample may simply be collected at the time of surgery.
Aggressive tumours may spread around the body (metastasise). Brain tumours in dogs and cats can spread to the chest and tumours from other sites (especially lung, liver, prostate, and mammary gland) may spread to the brain. X-Rays of the chest and abdomen as well as abdominal ultrasound may be necessary to confirm that the tumour is not elsewhere in the body.
Can brain tumours be treated?
Advances in veterinary care for pets mean that brain tumours in dogs and cats can be treated, although unfortunately there are few tumours which can be cured. Treatment is usually aimed at providing your pet with the best possible quality of life for as long as possible. Whatever treatment course you decide upon, if your dog or cat is having seizures they should be given medication to control these - as the seizures are likely to be permanent.
How can brain tumours be treated?
The treatment and prognosis for brain tumors in dogs and cats vary with the type of tumor. The most appropriate treatment for an individual depends on a number of factors, including the type of tumour and the general health of the patient.
There are 3 basic options for the treatment of tumours:
Will my pet suffer during treatment?
The aim of treatment for a brain tumour in dogs and cats is to prolong the period in which they enjoy a good quality of life. Your vet will not want to prolong your pet's life if your pet is unhappy. Discuss all your concerns with your vet before your pet starts treatment and every stage of the course. It will always be your decision as to when your pet is no longer happy. At this time the best option for your pet will be to ask your vet to put him or her to sleep.
How long will my pet live?
Predicting how long your animal can live with a brain tumour can be very difficult as this estimation depends on many factors including the type of tumour (which determine how quickly it grows), its size and place within the brain and finally the treatment used. Although many animals survive only a matter of months after diagnosis of a brain tumour, with help they can have a good quality of life.
If you decide to opt for treatment this time may help you to come to terms with what is happening to your pet and to have some happy memories to keep. As a rough guide, average remission time ranges from 1 to 6 months with corticosteroids alone, from 8 to 14 months with radiotherapy alone and 12 to 20 months with surgery followed by radiotherapy.
If you are concerned about the health of your pet you should contact your veterinary surgeon.