Skip to content

Recognizing Brain Tumors in Dogs: A Guide

Home » Blog » Recognizing Brain Tumors in Dogs: A Guide

Brain tumors are actually a relatively common ailment in older dogs, especially in certain breeds. But what is a tumor exactly? A tumor is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells within otherwise healthy tissue. So when a tumor grows within brain tissue, it will damage and eventually compress normal, healthy areas of the brain, causing serious neurologic symptoms.

bulldog being examined for possible brain tumor

Common Types of Brain Tumors in Dogs

Tumors that originate in the brain are called primary brain tumors. The two most common types of primary brain tumors in dogs are:

  • Meningioma originating in the coverings of the brain
  • Glioma originating in the support cells of the brain


Meningioma is the most common type of brain tumor seen in dogs. This tumor is technically considered benign in the sense that it does not spread to other parts of the body. However, if left untreated, it will cause ongoing neurologic deterioration. Treatment options generally include surgery and/or radiation therapy, which can maintain quality of life for a significantly extended period of time. Surgery typically offers the best outcome, as meningiomas are the most accessible tumors to remove. 


Gliomas, on the other hand, can exhibit a more aggressive behavior and spread, or metastasize, to the spinal cord. These tumors usually cannot be removed, as they most often occur deep within brain tissue. However, radiation, and in some cases chemotherapy, are still options to maintain quality of life for a period of time. According to Dr. Christine Senneca, Veterinary Neurologist at Southeast Veterinary Neurology (SEVN), “A lot of research is currently being done to find effective ways to treat this type of brain tumor.” 

Dr. Senneca performing a neurological exam for possible brain tumors in dogs

“Brain tumors can also be a result of metastasis from a cancer that started in another part of the body,” adds Dr. Senneca. “These are called secondary brain tumors. An example of this is hemangiosarcoma, which is a type of cancer that most commonly develops on the liver or spleen, but can spread, or metastasize, to the brain.”  

Causes of Brain Tumors in Dogs

Brain tumors are typically seen in dogs over five years old. We don't know what exactly causes brain tumors in dogs, but both genetic and environmental factors are thought to contribute to cancer development.

While it’s possible for any dog to develop a brain tumor, some breeds seem to have a higher risk, including:

  • Golden retrievers and Doberman pinschers tend to develop meningiomas
  • French and English bulldogs, boxers, and Boston terriers tend to develop gliomas

French bulldog with brain tumor

Signs of Brain Tumors in Dogs

Seizures are generally the most common sign of brain tumors in dogs, but signs actually vary according to where the tumor is located in the brain. 

Signs of a tumor in the front of the brain may include:

  • Seizures

  • Walking in circles

  • Blindness

  • Behavior changes

  • Head pressing

Signs of a tumor in the back of the brain may include:

  • Reduced level of awareness
  • Wobbly or uncoordinated walking
  • Head tilt
  • Abnormal darting of the eyes
  • Weakness in the limbs

Treatment Options for Brain Tumors in Dogs 

Brain tumors can be difficult to diagnose without advanced diagnostics, because their symptoms can appear very similar to the symptoms of other conditions. High-field MRI is the most accurate tool for diagnosing brain tumors in dogs. MRI allows a veterinary neurologist to clearly see the location, shape, and size of a tumor, providing the best insight into the type of tumor and how to treat it. In some cases, blood work, chest X-rays, and abdominal ultrasound are also recommended due to the potential of certain tumors to spread.

MRI being used to diagnose brain tumors in dogs

While it is never easy to learn that your dog has cancer, there are treatment options available, including:

  • Palliative medications
  • Surgical removal or debulking
  • Radiation and chemotherapy

Surgery performed by an experienced veterinary neurologist can remove some or all of a brain tumor, while medication and radiation therapy, or sometimes chemotherapy, are used to shrink and slow the growth of brain tumors. Fortunately, cancer treatments tend to be very well tolerated in dogs. 

Palliative care is also always an option, which refers to using medication alone to keep your dog as comfortable as possible for as long as possible.

Early Diagnosis Can Affect the Outcome of Brain Tumors in Dogs

Dogs with brain tumors need ongoing care by a veterinary neurologist. Prognosis depends on the type and location of the tumor, how early it is diagnosed, and what treatment options are selected. The earlier brain tumors in dogs are diagnosed, the better the chances are that treatment will be effective. With treatment, it may be possible to increase the life expectancy associated with a brain tumor to several years, compared to just weeks or months with palliative care. 

“No matter what treatment is chosen, our goal at SEVN is to give each patient the best quality of life for as long as possible,” Dr. Senneca assures us.

nurse comforts dog with brain tumor

If you suspect your dog may have a brain tumor, contact one of our locations in Miami, Boynton Beach, Jupiter, or Virginia Beach to discuss your options today. Our compassionate team is dedicated to keeping your family together and available every day of the year for emergencies!


Posts navigation

Scroll To Top