A dog can’t tell you if it has horrible headaches, and cancer is common in older dogs, so doesn’t it make sense to get annual MRI’s to screen for brain tumors?

A dog also can’t tell you if it’s having other neurological symptoms (that brain cancer can cause) such as:
• Visual problems
• Clumsiness (which you may not notice if it’s subtle)
• Pain
• Numbness

A brain tumor in a dog can cause very subtle behavioral changes that, if even noticed, may be attributed—by the owner—to the older age of the animal.

So while these seemingly older-age-related changes are taking place, the brain cancer is growing.

My parents’ dog’s earliest symptoms (which at the time we thought were caused by older age—which was actually middle age) included:

• Losing interest sooner than usual when playing fetch and going to the porch door to be let back inside the house.

• After fetching the ball several times, failing to retrieve it and instead wandering around in the yard.

• Jumping to connect his mouth to an airborne Frisbee but missing it (which I thought was because it had been a while since we played with the Frisbee in combination with middle age).

• Sticking his nose and even half his body in the backyard pine trees, which he’d never done in the previous eight years.

• To this day I wonder what difference in survival outcome a yearly MRI to screen for brain cancer would have made beginning at age six.

“Today, veterinarian care and the quality of healthcare for our pets is second to none,” says Dr. Alison Birken Streit, DVM, operator of an animal hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and co-owner of foreverfreckled.com.

“More and more larger specialty hospitals are being built, and veterinarians are completing residencies in all specialty fields such as internal medicine, oncology, dermatology, ophthalmology, etc.

“With all these specialty services and state of the art care comes advanced diagnostic testing and treatment options. CT scans, MRIs, endoscopy and laparoscopy to name a few.

“As a small-animal veterinarian practicing general medicine, I find myself referring to specialists for advanced diagnostic testing and treatments all the time.

“I evaluate and treat dogs commonly in my hospital. Just like in humans, as dogs become older, they are more prone to diseases such as hypothyroidism, degenerative joint disease, chronic kidney disease and cancers such as brain tumors.

“With all the amazing and accessible medicine, diagnostics and treatments available for our pets, it is tempting to refer my older patients for advanced screening testing such as MRI.

“However, at this time, I do not recommend yearly MRI for brain tumor screening in dogs unless they are exhibiting clinical signs.

“I always encourage and recommend dogs be examined by their veterinarian annually, if not biannually, with complete bloodwork, urinalysis and possibly radiographs, if indicated.

“These tests are non-invasive and can detect disease early. If I find any neurological deficits or reason to suspect disease from my physical examination, then I will refer to a veterinary neurologist for further evaluation and MRI screening if indicated.

“In addition to being costly, MRI’s require anesthesia and are more invasive than simple screening tests.”

Because a dog can’t answer questions from the veterinarian and may indeed be experiencing symptoms of brain cancer that are being overlooked and blamed on aging, you may want to inquire about this to the doctor – especially if the dog is considered “older” age.

What prompted us to bring the dog in for an exam was my witnessing a seizure in him. There’s no reason for me to believe that this was his first seizure! A dog can’t tell you, “Gee, I passed out earlier today and when I came to I felt exhausted and sleepy.”

An MRI confirmed brain cancer, and the veterinary neurologist described it as being “fairly large,” and that “it’s probably been there for some time.”