Ever wonder if a brain tumor causes a dog to suffer with pain?

Unfortunately, dogs can’t tell us if they’re hurting anywhere, if they have head pain or some other pain related symptom.

For this post I consulted with Dr. Peter Gordon, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (Neurology), with Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Langley, British Columbia, about whether or not it’s possible to determine if a dog feels any pain as a result of a brain tumor.

My parents’ dog had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and my mother kept wondering if he was feeling any pain.

The vet tech for the diagnosing veterinary neurologist told me that “there is no pain.”

But I had to wonder: How could she or the doctor be so sure? Also keep in mind that there is a difference between pain and discomfort.

Dr. Gordon, whom I consulted with after my parents’ dog passed, explains:

“Unfortunately, it is very difficult to determine the exact feeling/sensations a dog experiences with a brain tumor, as we are unable to interview them or have them explain their symptoms.  As such we are restricted to working with clinical signs.”

Before our dog was diagnosed, he vomited once, and had been retching.

Certainly, the need to vomit is accompanied by discomfort (namely nausea), even though technically, this isn’t considered pain.

Dr. Gordon continues, “A symptom is a verbal description / complaint (i.e., headache) as opposed to a sign defined as a clinical / physical manifestation of a disease ( i.e., seizure, weakness).

“Humans with intracranial neoplasia (brain tumors) often describe headaches, migraines and/or dizziness, so it is a fair assumption that our canine companions could experience similar feelings.

“This assumption can be further supported by many owners who report that their pets are much more active, energetic, and perky after successful treatment, commenting that their pets seem even happier than they did in the months preceding the eventual diagnosis / realization of the intracranial problem.  This of course is anecdotal.”

We often wondered if our dog was experiencing dizziness; how could we possibly tell while he was just lying there, snoozing or waiting for food?

The brain tumor made our dog lose interest in playing fetch. This may have been strictly a cognitive change caused by the brain tumor, or…perhaps persistent dizziness was the culprit?

The dog would go for the ball if I tossed it, which was always a very short distance, because the dog was clumsy and had apparent rear-leg weakness, both of which may have been side effects of his anti-seizure drug, and/or caused by the brain tumor.

He’d go after the ball clumsily, and after picking it up, he’d either drop it and walk away from me (rather than bring the ball back to me).

Or, he’d keep it in his mouth and walk away from me, then after a few feet of this, drop the ball and show interest in going inside the house rather than playing.

Cognitive changes at work, here?

Or dizziness or even a persistent headache?

We wondered if perhaps a brain tumor was a “merciful” type of tumor, because we talked about how perhaps dogs with bone or pancreatic cancers might experience agonizing pain throughout their bodies.

Dogs with these cancers have been known to howl in pain.

They know they are suffering because they still have their wits.

We figured that maybe our dog at some point would experience compromised cognitive faculties and thus would not have instinctive knowledge that something was very wrong.

A brain tumor that has not spread will not cause a dog pain in his abdomen, throat, lungs or limbs, like other cancers can.

However, it’s logical to suspect that a brain tumor may cause a dog to experience head pain, dizziness and nausea, along with body weakness  —  all of which depend on the disease’s location in the brain.

Dr. Gordon has advanced training in intracranial and spinal neurosurgical techniques for the correction of intervertebral disc disease, cervical vertebral instability, spinal cord trauma/fracture, Chiari malformation and brain tumor resection.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.