Cerebral Edema (Brain Swelling) in Dogs

Overview of Cerebral Edema (Brain Swelling) in Dogs

Cerebral edema is swelling of the brain and is most often caused by head trauma in veterinary patients. Cerebral edema can also be caused by lack of oxygen, decreased blood flow to the brain, brain tumors, toxins and metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and electrolyte abnormalities.

Both cats and dogs can suffer from cerebral edema. Head trauma is more commonly seen in young, smaller animals.

What to Watch For

Animals with cerebral edema may range from being dull and unresponsive to being comatose, depending on the severity of the brain swelling. They are often blind, very weak or unable to walk, and may have seizures.

Diagnosis of Cerebral Edema

  • History and physical exam
  • Neurologic exam to evaluate brain function
  • CBC/biochemical profile/urinalysis to rule out metabolic disease or toxin exposure
  • Electroenchephalogram (EEG) to assess brain waves and degree of brain damage. This is done infrequently, and only at specialty hospitals.
  • MRI of the brain to look for tumors or specific brain abnormalities. This must also be performed at a specialty hospital
  • Treatment of Cerebral Edema

  • Treatment of any underlying diseases that are identified
  • Supportive care, including supplemental oxygen, head elevation and careful monitoring of neurologic status
  • Mannitol is a diuretic drug that can be used to decrease brain swelling and diminish pressure within the cranial cavity.
  • Steroids are sometimes used to decrease inflammation of the brain tissue, but these drugs are somewhat controversial and used less commonly than previously
  • Home Care and Prevention

    Cerebral edema is often a life threatening disorder and must be managed by your veterinarian. Once your pet is sent home, careful monitoring of behavior and mental attitude is important to assure that the pet is recovering appropriately.

    Avoidance of traumatic situations is one means of preventing cerebral edema. Puppies and kittens are often the victims of accidental trauma due to their small size. Appropriate housing of young pets is important for their safety.