Dog Brain Tumor: When to Euthanize? (Advice from Vets)

Dog Brain Tumor

If a brain tumor significantly worsens your dog’s quality of life, it may be time to consider euthanasia from a humane perspective. When you see your dog in acute discomfort – demonstrated in the seizures, pains, and difficulty in eating and drinking – with no concrete prospects of restoration, consult your vet about whether euthanasia is the kindest option.

Before you euthanize your dog, it is crucial to be adequately informed about brain tumors in dogs and the possibility of them being managed without euthanasia. How long can a dog with a brain tumor live with treatment? What signs indicate the symptoms are worsening? Can your dog’s brain tumor be cured?

Dog Brain Tumor When To Euthanize?

Making the decision is hard, but euthanasia may be the final act of love. It could be considered if your dog suffers greatly and its quality of life keeps declining.

Evaluating Your Dog’s Overall Quality of Life

Assess if your dog still enjoys daily life and if intensive treatments are helping enough. As the brain tumor progresses, keep track of any changes, whether positive or negative, in these areas:”

  • Mobility: Is your dog able to walk steadily and securely? Do they enjoy going for short walks or outings? Are movements very difficult for your dog due to loss of coordination, paralysis, or head tilt?
  • Continence: Is your dog regressing in their house training or crate training? Are they having frequent accidents, leakage issues, or losing bowel control? To cope with incontinence, using incontinence pads might help.
  • Appetite/Eating: Is your dog maintaining weight and interest in food? Adjust your dog’s diet to foods they will accept if they refuse their favorite foods, to maintain calorie intake. Make sure they can reach bowls easily.
  • Engagement: Is your dog still interested in getting attention, being petted, or playing with their favorite toys? Is your dog able to concentrate during walks, games, and training activities? Do they get confused or wander off distracted?
  • Comfort: Do pain medications effectively reduce your dog’s tumor discomfort? Can any complementary treatments like acupuncture provide additional relief? Is your dog resting quietly and calmly most of the time? Observe closely for signs of suffering.
  • All things considered, does your dog still convey a generally positive spirit about welcoming each day? Does your dog’s eyes and body language show resilience and happiness, or do they seem exhausted and weary?

Regularly use a quality-of-life scale to monitor your dog’s condition and note any trends.

What is a Dog Brain Tumor?

A brain tumor is an abnormal cell growth in a dog’s brain or its nearby tissues. Just like in humans, brain tumors are serious and can negatively impact a dog’s health and quality of life.

A brain tumor can be:

  • Cancerous (malignant) – These brain tumors grow quickly and invade other parts of the brain.
  • Non-cancerous (benign) – These brain tumors tend to have slower, more localized growth that may still cause problems.

Brain tumors in dogs most commonly start in the:

  • Meninges – The membranes covering the brain. This is called meningioma.
  • Glial cells – Cells that support nerve cells. These result in glioma tumors like astrocytoma.
  • Pituitary gland – A small gland at the brain’s base. Pituitary tumors cause Cushing’s disease.

Where the tumor starts and how fast it grows determines symptoms.

Benign meningiomas tend to compress the brain slowly over time. Aggressive gliomas can destroy nerve tissue and even spread to the spine.

Types of Dog Brain Tumors (How Does a Brain Tumor Kill a Dog?)

The majority of brain tumors in dogs end up in fatal cases. The fatality is also dependent on the type of brain tumor and how it metastasizes. In this regard, brain tumors in dogs are classified into primary and secondary brain tumors.

For primary brain tumors, the cancer cells start growing right inside your dog’s brain cells. Brain tumors like glioma tumor, adenocarcinoma, meningiomas, and choroid plexus papilloma belong in this category.

Secondary brain tumors have different origination sites. Here, the cancer cells start shooting from other parts of the body, with the cells eventually diffusing to the dog’s brain membrane. The most prevalent secondary brain tumors in dogs include melanoma, mammary carcinoma, and hemangiosarcoma.

The fatality of the cancer (brain tumor) – as typified in its impact in the dog’s neurological state – is decided by how the tumor grows within the dog’s skull and the position of the cancer cells in the dog’s brain.

If the cancer cells manage to damage vital sectors in your dog’s brain, things could get pretty bad. Also, the tumor can trigger an unusual aggregation of cerebrospinal fluid in your dog’s brain cavities. Eventually, all this could result in edema in the brain. All these could lead to death.

Your dog may often not display the symptoms early enough until the tumor has grown dangerously big. By then, the decline in your dog’s life quality would be accelerated.

Symptoms of Dog Brain Tumors

It can be difficult to spot brain tumors in dogs initially. Early symptoms are vague or mimic other common health issues. Over time, the pressure, inflammation, and damage inside the brain will cause more noticeable signs.

It is key to be alert to subtle changes in behavior or new problems for early diagnosis and treatment.

The most common early general symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Changes in thirst or urination
  • Lethargy, sleepiness
  • Irritability, restlessness

These resemble many illnesses, so further specific neurologic symptoms pointing to the brain are important:

Early Neurologic Symptoms

  • Disorientation, confusion
  • Stumbling, lack of coordination
  • Circles, compulsively paces
  • Stares blankly into space
  • Poor recall or response to commands
  • Symptoms of Advanced Brain Tumors

As mass effects and brain tissue damage worsen, more serious and acute stages arise:

  • Seizures
  • Severe loss of balance
  • Head tilt and circling to one side
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Loss of sight/hearing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Collapsing episodes
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Breathing changes
  • Coma

If your dog is demonstrating any atypical behaviors like those above, schedule a veterinary exam right away. Early detection of tumors greatly improves outcomes, preventing them from becoming aggressive or spreading.

Stages of Dog Brain Tumors

Veterinarians grade brain tumors according to a simplified staging system of I – IV based on tumor size and invasiveness. Understanding what each stage means will help you know what to expect.

Stage I

Small localized tumor just beginning to develop and cause symptoms

  • Usually benign meningiomas
  • Mild, intermittent neurological symptoms
  • Many years’ duration if slow-growing
  • Surgery is often curative

Stage II

Tumor is larger but still defined/contained

  • Increasing pressure on the surrounding brain
  • Worsening neurological symptoms
  • Surgery is still a good option
  • Radiation is also often used

Stage III

Large invasive tumor damaging brain tissue

  • Aggressive or malignant type
  • Significant neurological impairment
  • Surgery unlikely to cure
  • Radiation and chemo may help

Stage IV

Terminal widespread tumor/metastases

  • Originated elsewhere and spread to the brain
  • Rapid neurological deterioration
  • Extreme impairment and disability
  • Very poor prognosis expected
  • Palliative support for quality of life

Can a Brain Tumor in a Dog Be Cured? (Treatment Options)

Let us say the answer to this is a Yes and No. Your dog’s brain tumor treatment’s efficiency is decided by how far the tumor has grown and precisely which therapeutic procedure you take.

You can pick from just using medications (as we have discussed), surgery, radiation therapy, stereotactic radiation (SRS), and chemotherapy. How about we dig into these procedures as to which best suits your dog?


Surgery – commonly involving craniotomy- is feasible if the tumor in your dog’s brain is wholly removable. In this case, the vet opens the dog’s skulls and tries to excise the cancerous cells surgically.

Ensure you are appropriately educated on the risks that come with surgery before adopting this option.

Chemotherapy or Radiation Therapy

A brain tumor is commonly associated with the metastasis of cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is one of the widely adopted procedures for treating cancer that has metastasized. This is typical of systemic cancers.

Besides stereotactic radiation, the traditional fractionated radiation therapy (CFRT) is one of the most sophisticated treatments vets conduct on dogs with brain tumors. Your vet could resort to CFRT as a supplemental resort if there were leftover cancerous cells after a previous procedure.

Alternatively, he can use CFRT independently (from the start). Given its superior efficacy in resolving brain tumors in dogs, vets tend to adopt it readily.

Stereotactic Radiation (SRS)

SRS is one of the latest advancements in radiation therapy. It beats your regular radiation therapy, courtesy of the former’s unique capacity to send higher radiation intensity. This capacity is further enhanced with SRS’s sub-millimeter accuracy.

What does this mean for your dog? Well, with SRS, your dog has a reduced propensity to serious side effects after the procedure.

Also, SRS has remarkable precision in targeting the cancerous cells in the brain without damaging healthy tissues neighboring the tumor.

In SRS, your dog will need anywhere from one to three sessions.

This is far lesser than is obtainable with CFRT. This implies you don’t have to worry about bringing your dog frequently to the vet clinic, and your dog wouldn’t have to binge on anesthetics.

How is a Brain Tumor Diagnosed in Dogs?

As characteristic of cancers, the earlier your dog’s brain tumor is diagnosed and detected, the higher its chances of survival. The basic processes for diagnosing brain tumors in dogs include a CT scan, chest x-ray, or samples derived from your dog’s urine, blood, or spinal fluids.

The CT scan is an imaging test that would determine the existence of a brain tumor. If that is not available, your vet could get the said samples and ascertain what really is behind the seizures your dog is experiencing (should those symptoms be exhibited).

Before administrating anesthetics on your dog, it helps if your vet runs an x-ray examination of your dog’s chest. This helps in accurately determining if the cancer cells originated outside the dog’s brains and later metastasized there (as typical of secondary brain tumors). This way, the vet is better informed on which treatment procedure to pursue.

How Long Will a Dog Live with a Brain Tumor?

The type of treatment procedure you took will determine how long your dog lives. Let us suppose you resorted to palliation – combining anticonvulsants and corticosteroids – which essentially doesn’t treat the brain tumor itself, only reducing the pain and symptoms. In that case, your dog can live up to two months.

If you adopted chemotherapy, your dog could survive for as long as 4-6 months. Debulking (removing as many cancerous cells from the brain) or alternative surgical procedures like complete excision of the tumor can get your dog living up to a year after treatment.

The same survival span (of 12 months) applies if the vet carries out a hyper-fractionated radiation therapy on your dog. When laced with radiation, surgery can get your dog surviving for as long as 30 months. Furthermore, a combination of surgery and chemotherapy yet does pretty well, getting your dog living as long as 22 months.

Are Dog Brain Tumors Painful?

Yes, your dog could experience pain. This pain is dependent on how far the cancer has progressed.

In some cases, the pain can be severe. You can resort to the administration of opioids or anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve your dog.

Will Phenobarbital Help a Dog with a Brain Tumor?

Seizures are signature symptoms of brain tumors in dogs. This is not unconnected with brain swelling. Phenobarbital is one effective medication to reduce such seizures.

Take note that phenobarbital will not entirely cure your dog’s brain tumor. On its own, it can extend your dog’s survival span by some extra 4-8 weeks at most.

This is not bad considering that these drug doesn’t cost that much. However, there are some significant side effects to be mindful of when you administer phenobarbital to your dog. You could notice your dog getting unusually thirsty, eating more, and even urinating too much.

Can a Brain Tumor Cause Seizures in Dogs?

Brain tumors trigger seizures in dogs. Seizures are more common in dogs older than five years.

Dog Brain Tumor Radiation Side Effects

Radiation therapy has its own risks. Your dog could experience unusual drowsiness for about 7-14 days after the radiation exercise.

Other than such sleepiness, there are strong chances of the tumor worsening anywhere from one to five months after the therapy. This could result from the irradiation of the healthy brain cells bordering the cancerous ones.

Such possibility arises from traditional radiation therapy lacking the precision of Stereotactic Radiation (SRS) therapy.

How Common is a Brain Tumor in Dogs?

The incident rate of brain tumors is higher in dogs above nine years. Gliomas and meningiomas are the two most prevalent forms of brain tumors that occur in dogs.

Dog breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Boston Terriers, Golden Retrievers, and Boxers have been found to have the highest rate of brain tumor occurrence. The reason for this is yet to be scientifically validated.

How Much Does It Cost to Remove a Brain Tumor from a Dog?

The cost for treating brain tumors in dogs ranges from $5,500 to $24,500. This depends on your location (say in the United States), the vet in person, and which type of procedure you chose.

In some cases, radiation therapy alone would work, costing you lesser money. Nonetheless, the chances of radiation therapy working independently are slim. Combining radiation therapy with another treatment will definitely cost you more.

You Might Also Like:

Scroll to Top