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Brain Cancer in Dogs and Cats

Cat in yard

Dogs and cats are at risk of getting cancer. They can even get many of the same types of cancer humans get –  including brain cancer.

The most common form of brain cancer in dogs or cats is a meningioma or a glioma. Older pets (five or more years old) have a higher risk of getting cancer and both sexes are equally vulnerable.

Does my dog or cat have a brain tumor?

Many brain tumors can be difficult to detect without proper testing and can display similar symptoms to ear infections or other conditions.

Often times, symptoms can continue to increase and a diagnosis may be delayed. Time is of the essence and understanding the signs and symptoms of a brain tumor is vital for early detection.Cosmo a dog with a brain tumor who was treated at PetCure Oncology

“Even at 11 years old, Cosmo was a bundle of energy and a graceful runner. [I] knew something was wrong when Cosmo fell down while playing and started bumping into furniture. In just a few weeks, Cosmo’s health had deteriorated, and he was barely able to lift up his head.”

-Lori Young, Pet Parent to Pet Hero Cosmo

Signs and Symptoms of Brain Cancer in Dogs and Cats

If your pet displays these signs or symptoms of brain cancer, have your pet examined by your primary care veterinarian as soon as possible.

  • Seizures – These are the most common initial brain tumor sign. Symptoms can include collapsing, jerking, stiffening, muscle twitching, loss of consciousness, drooling, chomping, tongue chewing, or foaming at the mouth. Pets can fall to the side and make paddling motions with their legs. Call your veterinarian as soon as possible if your dog or cat begins to have seizures
  • Abnormal Behavior – The brain is responsible for many functions, including emotions and behavior. Your pet is showing signs of increased aggression, loss of learned behavior, depression/dullness, or lethargy
  • Vision Loss – Your pet has trouble seeing out of one or both eyes, pupils are dilated or movement seems uncoordinated
  • Food and Water Intake Changes – Your dog or cat is displaying signs of increased or decreased hunger or thirst
  • Neck/Head Pain – Your dog or cat has started to tilt their head or is displaying signs of pain or sensitivity in the neck
  • Restless – Your dog or cat is constantly pacing or circling to one side
  • Unsteady – Loss of balance is another key symptom. Your pet may stagger while walking or standing up/down
  • Nausea – Your pet begins to vomit due to an unknown cause
  • Other Signs of Cancer – While the above are some of the common signs of a brain tumor, there are other signs of the cancer that don’t include the head or neck. For example, weight loss, weight gain, a persistent cough, and wounds that won’t heal are also signs of cancer. Read our “Top 10 Warning Signs of Cancer in Your Pet” post for more information

Diagnosis and Staging

Diagnostic tests for brain cancer can include one or more of the following:

  • CT scan/MRI – These imaging tests will identify a brain tumor
  • Blood, urine or spinal fluid samples – These are critical to assess organ function and/or determine cause of seizures
  • Chest X-ray – This will evaluate a pet prior to anesthesia and check for metastases (spread of cancer) or secondary tumors

Treatment Options for Brain Tumors in Dogs and Cats

The first step of action is pain management. Depending on the stage of the cancer, your pet may be in a lot of pain. It will likely be prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids to relieve pain throughout treatment. The good news is that treatment options are available.

Surgery

Surgery is often the ideal treatment for cats and dogs with brain tumors if the cancer can be fully removed. Talk to your veterinarian about the risks of surgery and the likelihood of leaving any cancer cells behind.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a common cancer treatment but affects the entire body. It is typically used to treat systemic cancers or cancers that have spread.

Palliative

Palliative therapies help increase comfort for your cat or dog, but do not treat the cancer.

Radiation Therapy

Before the introduction of stereotactic radiation (SRS/SRT) in veterinary medicine, the most advanced radiation therapy available to pet owners was conventionally fractionated radiation therapy (CFRT). CFRT can be used alone or following a surgery where some cancer cells remain. CFRT can treat the tumor in ways surgery or chemotherapy can’t and in many cases is the recommended course of treatment, but there are also disadvantages. The radiation delivered to the tumor can damage the normal, healthy tissue surrounding it. In order to keep side effects as minimal as possible, the radiation is delivered in smaller doses over the course of anywhere from 15 to 21 daily treatment sessions under anesthesia.

Stereotactic Radiation (SRS/SRT)

At PetCure Oncology, our centers offer CFRT as well as the newer and more advanced forms of radiation therapy like SRS/SRT. Unlike traditional radiation therapy, SRS/SRT is able to deliver high doses of radiation with sub-millimeter precision. This means:

  • Maximum damage to the tumor and minimal collateral damage to healthy tissues nearby
  • Fewer treatment sessions compared to CFRT—patients require only 1-3 sessions, which means fewer anesthetic events, more safety, and less disruption to your schedule
  • Fast recovery with little to no side effects
  • Ability to treat tumors previously considered untreatable

Dog and Cat Brain Cancer: Life Expectancy, Survival and Prognosis

Prognosis varies by case, but the median survival time for dogs after advanced radiation therapy ranges from 12-14 months for gliomas and 20-24 months for meningiomas, depending on the type of cancer and how early it was treated.1,2 As with any cancer, the earlier it is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances that treatment will be successful.

Meet Our Brain Cancer Pet Heroes

As of June 2017, 15 percent of all cancers treated by PetCure Oncology have been brain tumors and PetCure Oncology has treated more than 100 pets with brain or central nervous system (CNS) tumors. Of those pets, 99 percent have elected to treat with stereotactic radiation (SRS/SRT).3

Here are a few our inspiring Pet Heroes that have fought brain cancer. We invite you to read their stories. If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer, contact our Pet Advocates at (833) PET-HERO or your local PetCure Oncology center. Our team members are ready to help answer your questions.


1. Mariani CL, et al. Frameless stereotactic radiosurgery for the treatment of primary intracranial tumours in dogs. Vet Comp Oncol. 2015;13: 409–423.
2.  Yoshikawa H, Mayer MN. External beam radiation therapy for canine intracranial meningioma. Can Vet J. 2009;50(1),97–100
3. Statistics are from PetCure Oncology’s treatment database as of June 1, 2017.
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