Can Dogs Get Concussions?

Can Dogs Get Concussions?

As humans, we’re all very familiar with the risk of concussions in recreational activities like sports and bike-riding. Preventing concussions is the reason we wear helmets on bikes and motorcycles, and while playing football. But can dogs get concussions, too?

While the idea of a dog in a football helmet is pretty darn adorable, most of them don’t tolerate such large head gear. In this article, we’ll go over what dog concussions look like, and what preventative measures we take to keep our canine companions safe. 

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can be caused in two ways. The first cause, which most of us are familiar with, is a direct bump or blow to the head. The second is when the body experiences a sudden jolting or jostling movement that results in the brain colliding with the inside of the skull. 

Can Dogs Get Concussions?

Yes, dogs can get concussions. Concussions are harder to diagnose in dogs than they are in humans because dogs can’t tell us what happened or how they’re feeling. This is especially true if the concussion is very mild or if the traumatic event wasn’t witnessed by a human. 

Just like in humans, a dog concussion can range from mild to severe. While we presume head trauma in dogs is very similar to humans, we can’t say for sure if dogs experience all the same symptoms as people, such as headaches, memory loss, and ringing in the ears. 

Symptoms of Concussions in Dogs

Because it’s harder to recognize dog concussion symptoms, if you’re noticing them, it’s likely the injury is significant enough that they should have medical attention. If you see symptoms of a concussion in your dog, get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Signs of concussion in dogs include:

  • Acting mentally inappropriate or confused
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Different sized pupils (anisocoria), or pupils that don’t respond to light
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Difficulty walking, standing, and balancing
  • Disinterest in food and activity
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Blood in the eyes or coming from the nose or ear

Because a lot of concussions in dogs are caused by traumatic injuries, such as being hit by a car, it’s not uncommon for dogs to have other injuries concurrently with a concussion, like a broken leg. 

Causes of Dog Concussions

Most cases of head trauma in dogs are related to accidents, especially car accidents. 

Other common causes of dog concussions include:

  • Falls from heights, especially in small dogs
  • Roughhousing or fights between dogs, especially when a small dog is interacting with a larger dog
  • Collisions with other dogs, trees, fences, and other hard surfaces
  • Getting kicked by livestock or horses
  • Accidental blunt force trauma, like being hit by a baseball bat or a falling branch
  • Abuse in the home 

Treating Dog Concussions

A mild concussion may not require hospitalization and might improve on its own, but the pet should still be evaluated by a veterinarian to ensure it’s not more severe than you think.

Treatment for Mild Concussions

If your veterinarian thinks the head injury is mild, they may simply recommend that you monitor your dog at home and return if symptoms worsen or don’t improve. At-home monitoring and treatment is more likely in cases where the head bump was less significant, such as the pet running into a table, colliding with another dog, or experiencing a small fall. 

Your veterinarian will likely recommend that your dog rest for at least a couple days and may prescribe medications to reduce pain and anxiety during the recovery period. They may also recommend that your pet’s head stay elevated 15-25 degrees from the ground when resting. If your veterinarian does recommend this head position, they can show you the best way to achieve it. Make sure your pup is not sleeping with their neck kinked, as this can affect blood flow.

Treatment for Severe Concussions

More severe head trauma in dogs, such as concussion from a car accident, falls from significant heights, or getting struck by a baseball bat usually require hospitalization.

If your pet is having significant signs of concussion, the veterinarian may want to perform imaging to assess the damage. This may include radiographs of the head to look for skull fractures, a computed tomography (CT) scan to look for skull fractures and hemorrhage, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the brain itself.

In cases requiring hospitalization, treatment will be focused on maintaining good blood flow to the brain and decreasing the pressure in the skull. Your veterinarian should assess your pet’s overall neurologic status to help you determine if they’re likely to improve with treatment. Determining the severity of brain injury is important for making quality of life decisions before pursuing treatment. Severely injured pets have a lower chance of recovering. Those that do survive may have a long rehabilitation road ahead of them.

Treatments for hospitalized patients could include:

  • Intravenous fluids that help decrease pressure in the skull by pulling fluid into the blood vessels
  • Oxygen delivered via a mask, nasal cannula, or oxygen cage
  • Elevation of the head
  • Pain and anxiety medications
  • Assisted feeding or use of feeding tubes
  • Range-of-motion exercises and physical rehabilitation
  • Surgeries to address skull fractures or other injuries

How to Prevent Concussions in Dogs

Not all cases of concussion can be prevented, and accidents do happen to the best of pet parents. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of concussion, such as:

  • Having a fenced-in yard or only taking your dog outside on a leash
  • Using a leash on walks
  • Using a dog seatbelt for car rides
  • Restricting your pet’s access to large farm animals
  • Blocking access to fall risks, such as putting netting along the handrails on a high porch
  • Keeping your dog inside or separate when your family is playing with baseball bats or balls in the backyard
  • Separating small dogs from rambunctious or aggressive large dogs

Keep in mind that if your pet is showing symptoms of concussion, they should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible, even if you’re not sure that they actually have one. There are other conditions, such as meningitis, that may present similar symptoms, and anything that causes signs of concussion warrants an evaluation by a veterinarian.

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