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Open Fontanel & Hydrocephalus in Dogs
The last bones to fuse or ossify are four plate-like bones that meet at the topmost center of the head. These bones will normally close the gap of the skull when the puppy is around 4-5 weeks of age. There are instances when the closure of the gap is quite slow and may reach until the puppy is around 6 months old. Any breed of dog can have an open fontanel however the condition is most common in toy dog breeds such as Maltese, Chihuahua, Boston Terrier, and Pomeranian. Since the condition may be hereditary, a dog with an open fontanel should never be bred.
  • Symptoms and Types—An Open Fontanel must be examined continually until fontanel closes, and tested for hydrocephalus. A dog suffering from Hydrocephalus often manifests nervous signs. The pressure exerted on the brain can damage the tissues of the brain leaving permanent effects on a dog’s intelligence and motor skills. The head may appear to be misshapen and when examined closely, the open fontanel can be felt as a soft spot on the top of the head. Another complication associated with Hydrocephalus is impaired vision and hearing. Other nervous signs include circling, head pressing, head-tilting, and hyper-excitability.
  • Causes —A side from being congenital, there is danger the of traumatic injuries to the head or parasitism. Certain abnormal conditions can prevent the closure of the fontanel resulting in the presence of a gap on top of the skull that can predispose two important problems—first, the brain becomes vulnerable to injury; second, a dog with an open fontanel is more prone to Hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus literally means “water in the head”.
  • Diagnosis—Radiographs (X-rays) of the dog’s skull may be advised; these may reflect anatomical changes associated with open fontanel and hydrocephalus. Advanced testing is often necessary to reach a definitive diagnosis of hydrocephalus. This can include ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT scan) and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and skull. Another confirmatory technique called electroencephalography may also help with the diagnosis, especially of congenital hydrocephalus.
  • Treatment—A case of Hydrocephalus often has a poor prognosis. Supportive treatment will help reduce the build-up of fluid either by decreasing CSF production or
    increasing CSF absorption. However, this can only give temporary relief. Surgery can be done to shunt CSF to other parts of the body but most cases are unsuccessful and the procedure expensive. The outlook for dogs with hydrocephalus can be quite variable, ranging from quite good to grave. If the condition is congenital and the dog has obvious neurological symptoms with accompanying irreversible brain damage, the prognosis is probably guarded to poor. However, if the condition is congenital with no or only mild symptoms, or if it is acquired by trauma-induced inflammation or by a treatable infection, the prognosis can be quite good, depending upon whether the underlying cause can be identified, corrected or cured before significant brain damage occurs from the increase in intracranial pressure.
  • Prevention—There are currently no known preventative measures for this medical condition.

Other health problems can occur in your Maltese. If you notice anything unusual with your dog, take it to the vet immediately. This webpage is for general information only and is not intended to be a medical guide.

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