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Hydrocephalus in Cats: Causes Symptoms Diagnosis and Treatment

Hydrocephalus in Cats: A Comprehensive GuideCats, like humans, can suffer from various medical conditions. One such condition is hydrocephalus.

Hydrocephalus refers to the abnormal dilation of the ventricular system and spinal fluid accumulation. This condition affects cats of all ages and breeds and can have severe consequences if left untreated.

Types of Hydrocephalus:

There are two types of hydrocephalus that can affect cats, compensatory hydrocephalus and obstructive hydrocephalus. Compensatory hydrocephalus is a result of a primary disease that causes the spinal fluid to be absorbed into the nervous system.

In this type of hydrocephalus, the brain adapts to the spinal fluid’s accumulation, which allows the animal to function normally. Obstructive hydrocephalus, on the other hand, is caused by the obstruction of spinal fluid flowing through the brain.

This condition can be caused by various factors, including tumors, inflammation, and bleeding. Obstructive hydrocephalus often leads to an elevated intracranial pressure, which can damage the brain and cause severe neurological symptoms.

Symptoms of Hydrocephalus:

Hydrocephalus can present with subtle or severe symptoms, depending on the severity of the condition. Some of the most common symptoms of hydrocephalus include:

– Disorientation

– Head tilting

– Seizures

– Behavioral changes

– Lethargy

– Staggering gait

– Frequent falls or stumbling

– Irregular pupil size

– Blindness

– Vomiting

– Involuntary eye movements

– Uncoordinated movements

If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Your vet can perform a series of tests and imaging studies to diagnose hydrocephalus and determine the appropriate treatment. Treatment Options for Hydrocephalus:

The treatment of hydrocephalus depends on its severity and type.

In some cases, compensatory hydrocephalus may not require any treatment other than the management of the primary disease. In other cases, the vet may recommend surgery to remove obstructions that are causing an accumulation of spinal fluid.

The surgical procedure typically involved inserting a shunt into the brain to create a pathway for the excess spinal fluid to flow to another part of the body, where it can be absorbed. These shunts are designed to last a lifetime and will require periodic monitoring and adjustment.

In some cases, your vet might prescribe medications to help decrease the spinal fluid’s production, which can reduce the severity of hydrocephalus symptoms. Prevention of Hydrocephalus:

Unfortunately, there are no specific measures you can take to prevent hydrocephalus in cats since the condition can be idiopathic or the result of an underlying disease.

However, feeding your cat a healthy diet and providing regular veterinary care can help identify and manage the condition early on. The Bottom Line:

In conclusion, hydrocephalus is a medical condition that can cause significant damage to a cat’s brain if left untreated.

Knowing the symptoms and seeking veterinary care early can help prevent severe neurological damage. Treatment options, such as surgery and medication, can help manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life of cats suffering from hydrocephalus.

Remember to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Hydrocephalus, commonly referred to as water on the brain, is a medical condition where there is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the ventricles of the brain.

This condition can occur in cats of all ages and breeds and can have severe consequences if left untreated. In this article, we will discuss in detail the various causes and symptoms of hydrocephalus in cats.

Causes of Hydrocephalus:

Hydrocephalus in cats can be classified into two categories; congenital and acquired causes. Congenital Causes:

Congenital hydrocephalus is the most common type of hydrocephalus in cats and is caused by genetic mutations that affect the development and function of the brain.

Some of the other possible causes of congenital hydrocephalus in cats include intrauterine infections, such as the feline coronavirus, hemorrhages in the brain, teratogens, and vitamin A deficiency. Acquired Causes:

Acquired hydrocephalus is caused by various conditions that can arise after birth, such as intracranial inflammatory diseases, masses in the cranium, and other secondary conditions that interfere with normal cerebrospinal fluid flow.

The most common intracranial inflammatory diseases that can cause acquired hydrocephalus in cats include meningitis, encephalitis, and abscesses. Symptoms of Hydrocephalus:

The symptoms of hydrocephalus in cats are varied, and in many cases, they depend on the age of the cat, the causes of hydrocephalus, and the severity of the condition.

General Symptoms:

The general symptoms of hydrocephalus are commonly seen in cats with congenital hydrocephalus. These symptoms include wetting and soiling outside the litter box, sleepiness, vocalization, and hyperexcitability.

The presence of these symptoms is due to pressure created on the brain by the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid. The amount of pressure exerted on the brain depends on the severity of the condition.

Neurological Symptoms:

The neurological symptoms of hydrocephalus are due to the damage caused to the brain tissue by the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid. These symptoms include blindness, seizures, gait abnormalities, coma, and abnormal breathing.

The nature and severity of these symptoms depend on the part of the brain that is affected, and the age of the cat. In young cats, the symptoms of hydrocephalus may manifest as delayed onset of normal behaviors such as rolling over, walking, and playing.

These cats may also have the size of their head, which is bigger than that of their littermates. In older cats, hydrocephalus may manifest as seizures, circling behavior, head pressing, and changes in personality.

Diagnosis of Hydrocephalus:

If you observe any of the symptoms described above in your cat, seek immediate medical attention from your veterinarian. The diagnosis of hydrocephalus in cats is based on a detailed history, clinical signs, and diagnostic tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans of the brain.

MRI is the most accurate diagnostic tool that can detect hydrocephalus in cats. It can be performed by referral to a specialist clinic.

CT scans are less sensitive but can be a more reasonable diagnostic choice in some cases. Your veterinarian may also order other tests, such as cerebrospinal tap, to confirm the diagnosis of hydrocephalus in your cat.

Treatment of Hydrocephalus:

The treatment of hydrocephalus in cats depends on the severity and type of the condition. In some cases, if the condition is mild and the cat is asymptomatic, a wait-and-see approach may occur.

Still, this is rarely the case. If there is a primary underlying condition, managing this condition may sometimes resolve the hydrocephalus.

If the cat’s condition is debilitating or negatively impacting their quality of life, surgical interventions such as ventriculoperitoneal shunts or ventriculoatrial shunts may be performed. A ventriculoperitoneal shunt involves the insertion of a valve-driven tube to direct the excess cerebrospinal fluid from the brain to the abdomen where it can be absorbed.

A ventriculoatrial shunt requires the insertion of a valve-driven tube to direct the excess cerebrospinal fluid from the brain directly into the right atrium of the heart. The success of these procedures is dependent on the age of the cat, which underlying condition is present, and their general health status.

The surgeon will discuss the possible complications of the shunt surgery before proceeding with it. Conclusion:

Hydrocephalus is a medical condition that affects the neurological health of a cat.

This article provides insights into the different types of hydrocephalus, its causes, symptoms, and the diagnosis and treatment options available for cats. It is vital to seek immediate veterinary attention if you notice any of the symptoms discussed in this article.

With early detection and appropriate treatment, it is possible to improve the quality of life of cats with hydrocephalus. Diagnosis of Hydrocephalus:

Diagnosing hydrocephalus in cats involves a thorough evaluation of the cat’s medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests to ascertain the cause and extent of the hydrocephalus.

In this section, we will discuss the different diagnostic tools that veterinarians use when checking for hydrocephalus in cats. Physical Examination and Blood Tests:

Getting a complete history of a cat’s symptoms is a vital first step in diagnosing hydrocephalus.

A physical examination and blood tests can help identify any underlying conditions that could be resulting in cerebrospinal fluid accumulation. Blood tests can effectively rule out infectious, metabolic, vascular, and inflammatory causes of neurological issues.

Trauma, infection, and cancer can cause neurological symptoms that mimic hydrocephalus, so it’s important to conduct a thorough physical examination and blood tests to rule these out. Diagnostic Imaging:

Diagnostic imaging is an essential tool in diagnosing hydrocephalus in cats.

Radiography is often the first diagnostic test used to screen for the presence of skull abnormalities that could suggest hydrocephalus. However, it is not the most reliable imaging test for hydrocephalus.

CT scan and MRI are better diagnostic imaging tools for identifying cerebral spinal fluid abnormalities accurately. Computed tomography (CT) scan can produce detailed images of the brain and help identify the severity and cause of hydrocephalus.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) produces highly detailed images of the brain to detect cerebrospinal fluid accumulation better. In certain cases, an MRI may be able to identify possible underlying causes, like the presence of tumors.

These tools help veterinarians to diagnose hydrocephalus and make appropriate recommendations for the course of treatment. Other diagnostic tests:

Other diagnostic tests conducted to diagnose hydrocephalus include a spinal tap procedure, which involves removing and analyzing cerebrospinal fluid.

A laboratory analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid can determine various health indicators, such as glucose levels, protein levels, and cell counts. An electroencephalogram (EEG) can help to evaluate seizures in cats.

Treatment of Hydrocephalus:

The treatment plan for hydrocephalus will depend on the causative factors, severity of the condition, and the neurological damage that has occurred. Treatment for hydrocephalus may involve medical or surgical intervention.


Severe cases of hydrocephalus may require hospitalization. This will help to stabilize the cat suffering from the condition while a medical treatment plan is established.

Hospitalization facilities can monitor the cat’s behavior, vital signs, and the extent of the neurological damage. If there are indications of severe symptoms, surgery, managing the cat’s pressure sores, eye lubricant, or even aspiration pneumonia treatment may occur within this facility.

Medical Treatment:

If the cat is not severely ill, medical treatment may be sufficient. Medical treatment involves the administration of medications that can help decrease the cerebrospinal fluid production, control seizures, reduce inflammation, and manage symptoms of hydrocephalus.

As an outpatient, one can administer these prescribed drugs carefully. Follow-up Appointments:

The prognosis for cats with hydrocephalus depends on the severity of the condition.

Cats that had surgery have varied and long-term prognoses; they may only require general care, or they may need additional treatments for underlying conditions that may contribute to the cerebrospinal fluid accumulation. Follow-up doctor appointments, continuous monitoring, and periodic corticosteroid dosage will continue to be necessary.


In conclusion, diagnosing and treating hydrocephalus in cats is critical in managing the neurological symptoms associated with the condition. While diagnosis techniques like physical examination and blood test may be relatively simple, diagnostic imaging tests like CT and MRI scans can provide detailed information that will aid in the diagnosis of hydrocephalus.

Medical or surgical intervention is then carried out to the severity of the condition. Follow-up appointments and check-ins with veterinarians are strongly recommended.

Early detection and proper intervention can improve the cat’s quality of life, prevent severe neurological damage, and increase the chances of your cat having a vital, healthy life. Living and Management:

Cats with hydrocephalus can live happy and healthy lives with proper management.

Successful management requires continuous monitoring, periodic check-ins, and close observation of the cat’s neurological function. In this section, we will discuss the necessary measures for living with a cat diagnosed with hydrocephalus.

Follow-up Appointments:

Follow-up appointments are essential for cats with hydrocephalus. Periodic check-ins with the veterinarian will help them monitor the cat’s recovery and adjust their medical plan accordingly.

Follow-up appointments may involve repeated imaging studies for surgically managed cases, intermittent drug dosage adjustments, and recurrent laboratory tests and examinations. Prognosis:

The prognosis for cats with hydrocephalus depends highly on the severity, the cause and type of hydrocephalus, and its management.

Cats with congenital hydrocephalus may require medical treatment and even in some severe cases, surgical intervention. However, the management of acquired hydrocephalus typically tackles the source of the cerebral spinal fluid accumulation.

In surgically managed congenital hydrocephalus cases, neurological damage may be irreversible, and stringent care may be necessary. However, cats with mild symptoms that undergo surgical management typically have good long-term recovery.

Alternatively, mild medical management does not require any surgery and has contributed to a relatively good prognosis. Home Care:

When managing cats with hydrocephalus, it is imperative to make a safe and comfortable environment for them.

For instance, they may require soft and padded surfaces or a quiet, low stimulation environment. Behavior changes, such as altered sleep patterns and decreased appetite, may occur.

In these instances, follow the dietary recommendations of a veterinarian. Cats with hydrocephalus should not engage in high-impact activities and should not expose their heads to trauma.

They should be closely monitored for any deteriorating symptoms that may require immediate veterinary intervention. Conclusion:

Cats with hydrocephalus require critical care, prompt diagnosis, and efficient management to avoid the induced neurological damage that comes with the condition.

Establishing close-working relationships with the cat’s veterinarian is significant because the severity of hydrocephalus may require frequent visits and check-ins. Additional homecare management is also an important factor for a good prognosis, with soft and comfortable surfaces and plenty of rest for a cat with hydrocephalus.

With proper care, management and treatment, cats with hydrocephalus can live long, healthy lives, with minimal impact on their quality of life. In conclusion, hydrocephalus is a medical condition that can affect cats of all ages, breeds, and sexes.

The condition leads to the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain ventricles, causing pressure that may result in severe neurological symptoms. With proper diagnosis and management, cats diagnosed with hydrocephalus can live long and healthy lives.

This article outlines the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and living management of hydrocephalus. Remembering that early identification, prompt treatment, and consistent follow-up appointments as necessary can help to improve your cat’s prognosis and quality of life.

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