When we have an animal in our lives, we realize that they are more than just a pet; they are a member of the family. We do our best to take care of them, providing them with a warm place to sleep, good food to eat and sometimes, needed medical attention. We also watch out for any signs that they may be having a health problem.
Unfortunately, one of the more common diseases that can occur in our pet is brain cancer. These types of tumors may vary in levels of malignancy, and there may be effective treatments for some. Tumors located in the area of the brain are known as meningiomas. They are more likely to occur in dogs that have long noses and heads, such as a Collie. On the other hand, a dog with a flat face and short nose is more likely to develop a pituitary tumor.
Dogs tend to experience brain tumors more frequently than cats, especially if they are over five years old. Certain breeds may also be predisposed to this type of problem, such as the Boston Terrier, Golden Retriever, and Boxer.
When an abnormal growth of cells occurs in the area of the brain, it is known as a brain tumor. They can either be primary or secondary, depending upon where the issue originated from. Primary brain tumors can include glioma, meningioma, pituitary adenoma, choroid plexus papilloma, and adenocarcinoma tumors. They originate in the brain.
A secondary brain tumor is cancer that starts in another part of the body and metastasizes to the brain. These can include mammary carcinoma and melanoma. Since the cancer is also found in other areas of the body when a secondary brain tumor exists, the prognosis is not typically as good.
Understanding the Brain Tumor Symptoms
Brain tumors may affect different parts of the brain, depending upon where they exist and the pressure that is being put on the area. The symptoms tend to be progressive and they may start off as relatively mild and difficult to notice. Some may also start quickly, as is the case when an older pet begins having seizures. The symptoms may come and go in some cases as well. Identifying the symptoms as early as possible typically leads to a better prognosis.
Any tumors located in the front of the brain tend to affect the behavior of the animal. It may also increase or decrease their hunger or thirst, lead to circling, pacing, vision problems, head pressing, and a decreased awareness of their surroundings. One of the more common symptoms associated with brain tumors is seizures.
When the brainstem is affected, the dog may experience a difficulty in walking, or it could affect their cardiovascular or respiratory symptoms. Most dogs who have a tumor that affects the brainstem will have weakness on one side of the body or a sudden loss of balance.
Other symptoms to watch out for include gate problems, head tilting, a difficulty with swallowing, vomiting, low appetite and circling. You may notice differences in the sound that your dog makes when they bark, or they may experience eye or whole body paralysis.
One other area that can be affected is the cerebellum, the part of the brain associated with coordination. These types of tumors affect the way that the dog moves, leading to tremors, gait problems and swaying.
Getting a Proper Diagnosis
If you have a dog who is over five years old and has any type of neurological symptoms, a brain tumor should be suspected. The veterinarian will provide a neurologic scan along with bloodwork, x-rays and a complete physical. X-rays will not be able to pick up soft-tissue brain tumors so an MRI or CT scan may be necessary. MRIs tend to be the preferred method.
Tumor type and location can often be determined with the use of an MRI or CT scan. Surgical removal of a tumor or a biopsy is necessary to determine mass. Unfortunately, many brain tumors are too far inside of the skull to work well with surgical removal.
There may be times that a brain mass occurs due to an infection and this could create an image that appears to be a brain tumor. That is why samples of the tumor are necessary to rule out the possibility that it is not malignant.
What Are the Treatment Options?
The basic options for treating brain tumors in cats and dogs is similar to what is seen in humans; chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery and symptom management. If surgery is considered, the tumor will likely be removed completely but it is rare for that to occur. Meningiomas are the most likely for a successful surgery because they are typically found on the brain surface. Gliomas are sometimes impossible to remove because of their position deep in the brain.
Chemotherapy isn’t a common option for dogs because the drugs are not able to effectively cross the blood-brain barrier. Some chemo drugs may be able to work well but it is only typically used if radiation or surgery is not possible or effective. There are also side effects to chemotherapy that can be very hard on the dog or cat.
Radiation therapy is able to slow the growth of the brain tumor in many cases. It is necessary for the dog or cat to be sound and healthy aside from the brain tumor in order for it to work well. Surgery is the primary form of treatment but radiation therapy may be used in conjunction with it.
If the veterinarian chooses a palliative treatment, it is to make the animal comfortable through relieving the symptoms.
There is a possibility for treatment of brain tumors in pets but the cure rate is low. With the right veterinary treatment and an early diagnosis, however, it may be possible to treat the dog successfully.