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Brain Surgery in Cats

By: Dr. Cathy Reese

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Surgery on the brain is not commonly performed in veterinary medicine, and when it is performed, it is usually done in specialty practices by surgeons or neurosurgeons. Brain surgery carries a high risk and often requires intensive monitoring during anesthesia and surgery and after surgery.

Brain surgery is usually done to remove and/or biopsy brain tumors, relieve excessive pressure on the brain caused by fluid accumulation as in hydrocephalus and cerebral edema, and repair skull fractures that are pressing on the brain.

Animals with brain tumors often have seizures or other behavioral changes. Animals suffering from head trauma may be at risk for cerebral edema or may have skull fractures. Often cerebral edema can be treated with medication. Skull fractures usually heal on their own unless the bone fragments are pressing on the brain.

Hydrocephalus is excessive spinal fluid accumulation within the brain. The fluid pressure on the brain causes brain damage. Shunts can be placed to drain the fluid from the brain, but unfortunately the problem is often diagnosed after significant brain damage has already occurred.

Diagnosis

  • Your veterinarian will ask you many questions to develop a complete history of the progression of the problem. These questions will include: what is your pet's age? Was there any traumatic event? What symptoms have you noticed? How long have they been going on? What treatments have you tried and with what results?

  • Your veterinarian will also examine your pet completely, including a neurological examination to determine the severity of the problem as well as to localize the affected area of the brain.

  • Special imaging techniques are used to scan the brain for the problem area. These techniques include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT scan).

  • Since MRI and CT scans must be done under general anesthesia, a routine pre-anesthetic screen may include a complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry profile and urinalysis to make sure your pet is otherwise healthy. X-rays of the chest may be taken to see if there is any evidence of tumors in the lungs, as brain tumors often spread to the lungs.

  • Spinal fluid (CSF) may be collected for analysis to look for tumor cells or signs of inflammatory cells.

    Treatment

  • After a diagnosis has been made, your veterinarian will discuss medical and surgical treatment options and the prognosis. Depending on the location and extent of the problem, surgery may or may not be an option. If surgery is an option, you may be referred to a specialist.

  • The prognosis depends on the diagnosis and the severity of the neurological signs before surgery.

  • After surgery, the patient is often hospitalized for a prolonged period of time, depending on the severity of the neurological signs after surgery.

  • Some brain tumors are treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. These therapies may be used in combination with surgery or on their own.

    Home Care and Prevention

    After surgery, your pet should be cage rested and restricted from activity according to your veterinarian's instructions. Medications prescribed by your veterinarian are administered as directed.

    Frequent re-check examinations by your veterinarian are necessary to identify potential problems and correct them as soon as possible.

    Cats with hydrocephalus should not be bred, since there may be a heritable component to this condition.

    Keep your cat on a leash when outdoors to avoid injury.

    There is no way to prevent the occurrence of brain tumors. Contact your veterinarian if you notice any behavior/personality changes in your pet and if your pet has a seizure.

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