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Can Dogs Get Concussions? What to Do in Case of a Head Injury

Can Dogs Get Concussions

Can dogs get concussions? Football players are not the only ones who can get concussions. But what exactly is a concussion, and how can a dog even get one?

Learn more about canine concussions, what signs to look out for, and more as we discuss this head injury commonly associated with athletes.

So Can Dogs Get Concussions?

Yes, dogs can get concussions. Blunt trauma to the head can cause a concussion in dogs. It can also be caused by a strong impact that has jarred the brain inside the head.

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury that results in a temporary loss of normal brain function. This traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be caused by blunt force trauma to the head or a hit to the body that can cause the head to rapidly move back and forth.

A blow to a dog’s body can cause the brain to be moved inside the head and result in a concussion. Brain cells can be damaged when the brain tissue changes shape as a result of rapid movement. A concussion is a medical emergency that can cause chemical and metabolic changes in the brain cells which affect the way they function and communicate.

Brain trauma may result in internal bleeding. The injured dog can also go into shock. Concussions in dogs are usually not life-threatening. However, permanent or temporary brain damage can affect their quality of life as well as other aspects of their health. 

Causes of Canine Concussion 

How can dogs get concussions? There are quite a number of ways dogs can get concussions. According to Dr. John McCue, veterinary specialist in internal medicine and neurology at the Animal Medical Center of New York City, car accidents are one of the most common causes of dog concussions. This is why it is very important to keep your dog as secure as possible whenever traveling in a car.

Here is a list of other common causes of dog concussions:

  • Car accidents
  • Being hit by a car
  • Colliding with other dogs or animals
  • Falling from a high place like a deck or flight of stairs; being dropped
  • Running into a glass door, walls, furniture, trees, fence, etc.
  • Getting attacked by another dog/ animal
  • Kicked by a large animal
  • Blunt injuries from falling debris
  • Abuse
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Symptoms of Dog Concussion 

After suffering from a head injury, we humans are usually asked questions by doctors or nurses to test our brain function and memory. As this does not apply to dogs, they need to be observed closely for any changes in their behavior and movements.

If your dog loses consciousness after hitting his or her head, seek medical attention immediately. If the dog is conscious, there could be subtle changes that could go unnoticed if the pet is not closely monitored. Some symptoms don’t present themselves right away. 

As dogs may not be able to necessarily communicate how they are feeling, we have provided a list of symptoms to look out for after head trauma or any incident that has the potential to cause a dog concussion:

  • Head injury
  • Loss of consciousness or was knocked unconscious after the impact
  • Bleeding from the nose or ears
  • Vomiting
  • Different-sized pupils
  • Bleeding into the eyes
  • Rapid side-to-side or up-and-down movements of the dog’s pupils
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty walking
  • Unable to balance their weight
  • Paralysis in any part of the body
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Behavioral changes such as if your dog appears unresponsive, looks dull, or sedated
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Pale gums
  • Low body temperature
  • Faint heartbeat
  • Loss of bowel control

What to Do if in Cases of a Suspected Concussion

Take Your Dog to the Vet

In case of a head injury or if your dog has taken a strong blow to the body, try to get him or her to settle and calm down. Take your pup to a cool and calm area to help him settle but not fall asleep. Try not to let your dog sleep for the next few hours after the trauma unless given the go signal by the vet. 

Dr. McCue says to monitor your pet closely if your pet has a normal level of consciousness and he’s OK. We highly recommend getting your pet treated promptly by a vet after some head trauma, as some symptoms won’t show until hours or days later. 

As a dog concussion has the potential to cause irreversible brain damage, catching it early on can help prevent further injury to the brain. Secondary problems may arise from the primary trauma if the dog is not able to get medical attention right away.

Try to avoid aggravating the injury when moving your dog by doing the following:

  • Use a pillow to keep your dog’s head elevated at around a 30-degree angle to relieve pressure on the brain
  • Remove the dog’s collar or anything that could restrict blood flow to the brain. Use a shoulder harness instead of neck collars if needed and loosen if it feels tight.
  • Do not pick the dog up by the neck or head
  • Use a board as a stretcher if the dog is unable to walk to reduce as much movement as possible, especially if the extent of the injuries has not been determined
  • Call the vet for any further instructions, as well as to inform them of the situation so they can prepare before you get there

What the Vets Will Do

Upon taking your dog to the vet for assessment, the vet is likely to run some diagnostic tests and/ or neurological tests. They will be checking the dog’s heart and lung function. If the dog stops breathing, the concussion may have disrupted the communication between the brain and the lungs. 

The vets will check for low blood pressure, body temperature, as well as dehydration among others. They will also check for and treat any cuts, wounds, and other injuries.

Brain swelling is another possibility after trauma to the head. The vet will be checking for any intracranial swelling or bleeding and may want to monitor the dog for the next several hours or opt to keep the dog overnight for observation. IV fluids may also be administered if necessary.

Time is of the essence whenever dealing with brain trauma. The earlier any swelling or bleeding is caught, the better the chances of preventing further damage to the brain. Surgery may be required in cases of a skull fracture, a foreign object getting lodged inside the head, or a build-up of fluid or blood in the head.

Make sure to follow any further veterinarian’s instructions concerning things like medications, wound care, follow-up care/ tests, etc. 

A follow-up check-up is usually scheduled to check for any changes and to determine the next course of action to take. If your dog seems fine after the monitoring period, we still recommend taking him or her to the vet for a follow-up check-up so that the vet can fully assess the dog and rule out other potential dangers such as secondary injuries that may develop sometime after the trauma took place. 

The vet may ask you to keep the dog’s physical activities at a minimum to avoid aggravating any injuries and help her heal.

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What to Do Once Your Dog Is Home

Aftercare for cases of canine concussion will largely depend on what your vet will say. Here are some helpful tips that you can follow as a general rule (unless your vet says otherwise):

  • Keep activities at a minimum. No playtime, rough play, or running until the vet says it is ok
  • If your dog has trouble standing up, help him or her change positions or encourage them to sit up if they can to prevent any bed sores
  • Clean wounds and reapply ointments or any medicines according to veterinary advice. Replace bandages regularly.
  • Keep the dog downstairs. Try to prevent the dog from going up the stairs as this risks falling and unnecessary strain on your dog
  • Nutritional support is vital during the recovery period. Ensure that your pup is getting adequate nutrition as this would help promote healing. If the dog is having difficulty eating due to the injury or has a weakened appetite, talk to your vet about the best way to nourish your pup. You may need to prepare a soft diet or feed prescription food.
  • Call your vet immediately if you think that your dog’s condition is getting worse 

How to Prevent Concussions in Dogs

Certain activities can put a dog at risk of concussions, but that does not mean that we cannot do anything to prevent them.

Thankfully, most dogs have thicker skulls than us humans, which means a lower chance of death in comparison. However, a strong enough impact can still result in death or major brain damage to dogs.

As responsible owners, here are some ways we can prevent concussions in dogs:

Keep Your Dog Secure at All Times

In your property

A high enough fence should keep your dog secure while on off-leash play time out in your yard. This will prevent the dog from running into traffic and getting hit by a car.

Encounters with less friendly or aggressive dogs and other animals can also be kept at bay by putting up a fence. 

Keep porch doors closed if you have a deck that your dog could fall from whenever the pup will be unsupervised. Doing this can also prevent animal attacks. 

In your car

Car harnesses can help secure your dog whenever traveling in a vehicle. You can buy a variety of car harnesses that would work best for your dog. These harnesses typically come with a seatbelt attachment to strap your pup onto the seat.

There are walking harnesses that have a soft chest plate which makes them a good car harness as well. You can get a seatbelt attachment that can turn your dog’s walking harness into a car one.

Travel crates can also help minimize impact in case of a car accident. 

Outdoors

Outside your property such as at the dog park, your dog should be kept on a leash at all times. This gives you control and you can easily stop them from running off or getting into fights with other dogs. Head butts during a fight can cause trauma and a concussion. 

A small dog can be easily picked up by a large dog in an attack. If the larger dog shakes a little dog hard enough, the brain could be moved inside the head causing a concussion.

Handling your dog or puppy

Always be mindful of how you handle your pet, especially small dogs. Supervise children whenever they are handling your dogs. They can drop the pet or handle small puppies too roughly. Dropping a small dog from a high enough place can cause concussions, so can accidentally hitting them with toys or other hard objects such as a baseball bat

Some small dogs like dome-headed toy breeds such as chihuahuas are more at risk of getting concussions from head trauma. This is due to open fontanelles which are holes in the skull where bones have not fused together.

Watch where you are going to avoid accidents or dropping objects on them which can injure the pets. Do not place them on unstable surfaces where they can easily fall.

Consider Getting a Pet Insurance

Trauma and accidents make up the majority of pet insurance claims. Brain trauma and concussions typically require multiple diagnostic tests before vets are able to determine which treatment options would be the best for your dog.

Such lab tests can be quite costly, so it could be worthwhile to shop around for pet insurance policies that cover diagnostic tests, surgery, and other veterinary procedures.

Pet insurance companies are more than happy to provide quotes and coverage details, as well as answer any other policy questions that you may have.

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What Is the Long-Term Outlook for Dogs With Concussions?

Dogs with minor concussions or those who are relatively young have a better chance of recovering, especially if there are no secondary injuries. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, if the dog experiences no additional nervous system deterioration over a 48-hour period, the prognosis also remains favorable.

It is hard to say for sure if and when a complete recovery can be expected. Recovery from concussions can occur over a short period of time or even several months. 

Conclusion

Concussions can be very dangerous and have the potential to cause temporary or permanent brain damage to our dogs. Depending on the severity and extent of the injury, it greatly impacts a dog’s quality of life, especially in cases where a secondary injury has developed.

It is crucial to take your dog to a vet immediately after the head trauma has occurred. Prompt medical attention can help minimize any further damage the injury may cause. Early detection and diagnosis of the severity of the concussion can help vets’ surgical or other intervention treatments be more effective and help your dog recover in a timely manner.

In cases of serious injuries such as head or brain trauma, we will have to rely heavily on our vets to help us guide our dogs to a complete recovery. Do not hesitate to call your vet if you think that your dog’s condition is worsening, or if the dog still seems very much in pain.

Your vet can prescribe medication that will not only relieve the pain but can also help your dog calm down. Stress can affect a dog’s blood flow and blood pressure, which is something that needs to be maintained at normal levels in cases of head injuries.

While concussions are commonly caused by accidents, there are things we can do as pet parents to prevent such accidents. Securing our pets at all times can help keep them safe from harm.

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