Hydrocephalus in French Bulldog Puppies | Harsh Reality of this Disorder

By: Danielle Harris

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hydrocephalus puppy
hydrocephalus in french bulldog puppies

Hydrocephalus in french bulldog puppies- Water on the Brain

Hydrocephalus in dogs, is an excess of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that has leaked inside the skull, leading to brain swelling.

CSF is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, providing both nutrients and protection.

Build-up of CSF can occur in the brain if the flow or absorption of CSF is blocked or too much CSF is produced by the body.

This leads to increased pressure within the skull that presses on the sensitive brain tissues. Increased intracranial pressure can lead to permanent, irreversible brain damage and death.

What causes hydrocephalus in dogs?

Hydrocephalus dogs are born with another condition that causes the fluid buildup that becomes hydrocephalus. This is congenital hydrocephalus.

A dog may acquire hydrocephalus or “water on the brain” later in life due to a Vitamin D deficiency, intracranial inflammatory disease, swelling in the brain, a brain tumor, or from the parainfluenza virus.

There are two main types of hydrocephalus in dogs:

Congenital (present at birth) and Acquired.

Congenital hydrocephalus

A birth defect most often associated with a dome-shaped skull, a large open fontanel (“soft spot”) on top of the skull, Low and back set ears, and eyes that appear to gaze downward.

Affected dogs may not have any obvious clinical signs, especially when they are very young.

Clinical Signs Associated with Congenital Hydrocephalus in dogs:

Inability to latch on to a nipple to feed and difficulty eating

Smaller than litter mates and slow growth

Abnormal or spastic walking/crawling

Circling or falling over on one side

Changes in behavior

Failure to house train or learn basic commands


Bumping into things/lack of coordination

Open fontanel

Weak back legs

Other defects are usually present and accompanying.

It is important to note that not all puppies with large fontanels

will develop hydrocephalus.

Acquired hydrocephalus in Dogs

This develops when the flow of CSF is blocked or altered by infection, tumor, or swelling. The most common cause of acquired hydrocephalus is a brain tumor.

Clinical signs are similar to those of congenital hydrocephalus in dogs:

  • Changes in behavior or training
  • Circling
  • Head pressing (a term used for pressing of the head up against a wall or other structure)
  • Listlessness
  • Loss of vision
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures.

Are certain breeds more likely to develop hydrocephalus?

Small, miniature, and toy breeds seem to be more affected. These breeds, as well as brachycephalic dogs (those with shorter faces), include the Boston Terrier, Chihuahua, English Bulldog, Manchester Terrier, Pekingese, Toy French Poodle, Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, and Yorkshire Terrier.

hydrocephalus in french bulldog puppies
Hydrocephalus Puppy: low and back set ears, bulging eyes, large domed head

How is hydrocephalus diagnosed?

In young puppies, a large fontanel and clinical signs consistent with hydrocephalus are usually all that are needed to diagnose congenital hydrocephalus . Including bulging eyes and low, back set ears.

Ultrasound evaluations through the fontanel can reveal dilated or enlarged brain ventricles (open areas in each half of the brain).

Brain scans using computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also be used to diagnose hydrocephalus. In cases of suspected acquired hydrocephalus, CT or MRI is necessary to make a definitive diagnosis. Electroencephalography (EEG), which involves connecting electrical sensors onto the head in multiple locations, may also be used to aid in diagnosing hydrocephalus.

Hydrocephalus Dog Scan
Hydrocephalus Dog Scan

How is hydrocephalus treated?

In the acute or early phases of hydrocephalus, treatment is directed toward reducing CSF production and inflammation by using corticosteroids (steroids, such as cortisone or prednisone). In more severe or chronic cases, anti-seizure medications will be needed, and drugs may benefit affected dogs.

Shunt for Hydrocephalus
Shunt for Hydrocephalus

Surgery to place a tube that runs from the open spaces in the brain to the abdomen can be performed at some veterinary teaching or specialty hospitals.

Success rates as high as 80% are reported in cases treated early.

Considerable risks and potential complications are associated with this procedure, so be sure to thoroughly discuss the benefits and risks of shunts with your veterinarian.

For acquired hydrocephalus, therapy is focused on treating the underlying cause and may range from medications to surgery to radiation therapy.

Should dogs with congenital hydrocephalus be bred?

Absolutely not. Because congenital hydrocephalus is a birth defect. It is genetic, however there is no preventative health screening available, like clef palate/lip.

What is the prognosis for dogs with hydrocephalus?

In general, hydrocephalus in dogs is a serious, often life-threatening, condition.

The forecasted outcome for hydrocephalus depends on its duration and severity. Puppies with congenital hydrocephalus may do well following shunt placement if severe brain damage has not occurred.

Our experience with hydrocephalus is not a pleasant one. The two pups we have worked with failed to thrive and it was recommended by our vet to move forward with humane euthanasia.

Dogs with acquired hydrocephalus have a poorer prognosis due to the likelihood of an underlying tumor or infection such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Your veterinarian will discuss your pet’s prognosis and treatment options based on its individual condition.

How common is hydrocephalus in dogs?

Our veterinarian once told me years ago that this defect is to be expected 1 out of every 50-100 puppies produced in all breeds with large domed heads (examples above).

I have experienced this defect twice now. One was in one of my own litters and the other was in a litter I was whelping for someone else.

My puppy required euthanasia at 5 weeks of age due to other complications including an under developed respiratory system, functioning at 70% oxygen level.

Prior to his loss, he has only pooped maybe 5 times during those 5 weeks. We tried enemas and warm water baths.

We were sucking his nose every 30 minutes with an electric nasal aspirator.

We tried steam to clear the airways and nebulizer treatments.

He was also on antibiotics and had been given subcutaneous fluid treatment as well as cupping(tapping the sides of the chest to break up phlegm and release fluid in lungs).

The other puppy we worked with, was euthanized at 3 weeks of age. He had a massive open fontanel (I could feel his brain) and was unable to walk or nurse. He frequently circled and did not tolerate feedings well at all.

Canine Open Fontanel Images
Canine Open Fontanel Images

What are open fontanels?

Open fontanelles are soft spots in the skull, or gaps between the skull’s growth plates.

They can be normal in young puppies, especially small breeds, but they typically close or harden by 9-12 weeks of age.

In some breeds, such as Chihuahuas and Miniature Dachshunds, it is not uncommon for open fontanelles to persist beyond 12 weeks of age. In fact, open fontanelles in Chihuahuas are referred to as “moleras” and they are considered to be part of the breed standard, along with the classic dome-shaped skull.

Open fontanelles are a normal finding in very young puppies. As normal puppies mature, the growth plates in their skull fuse together and the soft spots known as open fontanelles gradually reduce in size until they no longer exist. Persistent open fontanelles, however, are a common genetic condition that is seen in some small dog breeds.

In these dogs, persistent open fontanelles are caused by genetic abnormalities in normal developmental skull closure. The growth plates in these dogs simply fail to fuse in a normal manner, leaving a persistent soft spot in the skull.

In some cases, open fontanelles may be caused by an underlying brain condition, such as hydrocephalus. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) accumulates within the brain, causing the brain to swell. This swelling places pressure on the skull, which can contribute to open fontanelles, a dome-shaped skull, and other abnormalities. Fortunately, most cases of open fontanelles are genetic and are not associated with hydrocephalus.

Credit: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/open-fontanelle-in-small-breed-puppies#:~:text=What%20is%20an%20open%20fontanelle,9%2D12%20weeks%20of%20age.


These issues and whelping in general are not for the faint of heart. Im thankful to have given them the best chance at life I could. There will be times when nature has intended for a pup to not make it, but because of your love and care, that pup may live much longer than expected or even come back to live a completely normal life. Never give up and give it all you’ve got!

Consider purchasing one of our made to order incubators!

It maintains heat with attachment holes for nebulizers, oxygen concentrator, or whatever else you may need(humidifier)! Oxygen is a great tool for weak and failing puppies, boosting the immune system, click the link to learn more about how oxygen benefits newborn puppies.

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Hydrocephalus in french bulldog puppies discussion

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5 thoughts on “Hydrocephalus in French Bulldog Puppies | Harsh Reality of this Disorder”

  1. Hydrocephalus is a Terrible Disease and I wish more than anything that it didn’t exist! However, since it does, all we can do as dog owners is do everything we can to help the puppy diagnosed with this disease to lead as normal a life as possible! Showering these inflicted puppies with massive amounts of Love and Understanding should be the order of the day! God Bless any puppy who has to deal with this terrible disease!

    • We just got our 3 week old frenchie diagnosed with hydrocephalus. Currently he functions good just has a bigger than normal head. Ultrasound showed a dime size amount of fluid in his skull which we are told does not have good prognosis. All we can do is pray that he heals. It’s devesating

  2. I have 16 week old Frenchie diagnosed with Hydrocephalus. Cinco seems to function well The vet mentioned the soft has closed quite a bit. not really sire what that means as my husband takes him to the vet due to my schedule. Cinco brightens my day and has so much personality for a 8lb pup. I will Love him until he leaves me but hopeful he’ll be around awhile.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. I hope Cinco is around for a long time too! Surely he will live his best life with you and your great family. If by soft, they mean the soft spot on the top of the head, then that is the fontanel. Babies, including puppies, are born with open spots in the skull that close as they grow. Sometimes they don’t close, which is really common in chihuahuas actually. As long as its not too open it’s not a cause for concern. Although hydrocephalus doesn’t resolve on its own, it’s a very good sign that your pups soft spot is smaller.

      Wishing you guys all the best!


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