Does My Dog Have a Concussion?
Reviewed for accuracy on May 11, 2020 by Sarah Wallace, DVM
- Symptoms of concussion in dogs are similar to human symptoms and include pupil dilation, lethargy and disorientation.
- Concussions typically occur from blunt injuries, or when a dog is violently shaken or thrown to the ground.
- If you suspect a concussion, transport your dog to the vet quickly with his head elevated.
If you see your dog experience any type of head trauma, especially if you witness them getting knocked unconscious, you should take them to a vet immediately as there may be the possibility of a concussion.
Since your dog can’t necessarily communicate their pain and confusion—it’s up to you to be observant and act quickly if you suspect a concussion.
Symptoms of concussion are similar to human symptoms of concussion and include:
- Different-sized pupils
- Rapid side-to-side eye movement
- Dull or sedated mentation (response to you)
- Trouble standing or walking
- Vomiting after the trauma
- Paralysis/Inability to move
- Seizures after the trauma – especially if no previous seizure activity
If a concussion isn’t identified and treated promptly, your dog could experience long-term health effects. Medical attention for suspected concussion is always recommended, even if your dog seems to have recovered from it in the moment.
Causes of Concussion
Similar to humans, dogs can get concussions from a variety of causes. Car accidents, falls from high elevations, head butts, or kicks from rough play, running into hard objects, or getting hit by falling debris are the kinds of things that can lead to a concussion. Concussions typically occur from blunt injuries, although they can be caused by other animal attacks, or when a dog is shaken or thrown to the ground,
Small dogs are just as prone to concussions as bigger dogs as they are often carried around and may be dropped, or get into a scuffle with a much larger dog.
Puppies with open fontanels, or soft spots in their skulls, are particularly susceptible to concussion. A dog’s fontanel (fohn-ten-ehl) typically closes by 4 months of age as the bones of the head harden. On rare occasions, the fontanel doesn’t close. Tiny dogs including so-called “teacup” and “toy” breeds of Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, and Pomeranians are more likely than other breeds to have problems stemming from fontanels that don’t close.
What to Do If You Suspect a Concussion
When on your way to the vet, or waiting for medical attention, keep the dog calm and cover them with a blanket to help prevent shock. Shock happens when your dog’s internal systems are not getting enough blood flow and oxygen to keep his body functioning normally. Signs of shock include pale pink or white gums, tongue, or rectum. Another practical way to assess shock is the temperature of the extremities. If toes of the front or back limbs cannot get warm blood to them, they can feel cooler than normal, and shock may be occurring.
Transport your dog to the vet as quickly as possible with his head elevated above his hindquarters to reduce intracranial pressure. You may need to use a stretcher or a board to move the dog into a car. Remove their collar or anything that restricts their breathing. If your dog loses consciousness, keep them breathing by gently opening their mouth and pulling the tongue as far forward as you can to open the airway. If your dog stops breathing, perform CPR.
Usually, the veterinarian will conduct a neurologic evaluation after their physical examination. Other diagnostics will depend on how your pet is doing. Your veterinarian may want to check blood pressure, sometimes give oxygen, and basically make sure things remain as normal as possible. With more serious injuries, an MRI may be needed. Your veterinarian will likely want to keep your dog overnight for observation, as a concussion that leads to brain swelling can occur as late as 24 hours after an injury. Only a veterinarian is equipped to catch problems that happen later.
Treatment for Concussion
Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the injury. Minor concussions may just need rest and observation.
Possible treatments include:
- IV fluids
- Diuretics (drugs to expel water and salt)
- Corticosteroids (steroid hormones)
- Surgery (in severe cases)
- Other medications as needed to keep your pet comfortable and pain-free
A concussion that leads to unconsciousness can be brief or may last several hours, depending on its severity. As in humans, single concussions in dogs will not usually lead to severe, long-lasting damage, especially if treated in a timely manner.
Of course, the best outcome is to take precautions to prevent a concussion in the first place. Keep your dog on leash or fenced in, secure while riding in a car, and away from aggressive dogs or high, unstable places and open windows.
Trauma and accidents account for a vast majority of pet insurance claims; by getting a free quote, you can start the process of safeguarding your pup’s health and covering costly vet visits, especially for those that are unexpected.
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