Can dogs get concussions? Yes. Concussions in dogs are similar to concussions in humans, but because dogs can't speak to us in our language, they can't tell us how they're feeling and we have to decipher their symptoms to know how to care for them. This post will tell you the common causes of dog concussions, dog concussion symptoms, and how to give them proper treatment.
What is a canine concussion?
A canine concussion is much like a human concussion. It is a traumatic brain injury, meaning the brain is the focal point of the head injury, as opposed to a dog skull fracture. Both can certainly occur at the same time, but the dog doesn't have to have one to have the other.
Concussions can occur because the brain was jostled inside the skull from a direct hit to the head or from an impact that jarred the brain. An example of the latter may be where one dog ran into another dog's body. The head was not directly hit, but the impact was so great it caused the brain to move with too great a force inside the skull and caused a concussion.
If the brain is damaged on both sides, where it was originally hit and where it bounced against the opposite side of the skull, this is called a Coup-Contrecoup.
There are also contusions where the brain took the direct impact of a blow rather than damage occurring from movement, and a Diffuse Axonal injury caused by a shaking or rotating motion like shaken baby syndrome.
It is possible to have a combination of these injuries, depending on the accident or abuse the dog suffered.
The first type, caused by impact to the head or body, is the most common traumatic brain injury and concussion.
Dogs are not as likely to suffer head injuries as humans are, because most of them have thick skulls, but this also makes realizing how hurt our dog is less intuitive. We think they look fine on the outside, no visible head injury, and may not realize their brain was damaged.
Concussions are more likely to cause temporary or permanent brain damage than to kill the dog, but death is a risk. The dog is likely to hurt themselves again and probably even worse, they may suffer internal bleeding, or they may go into shock.
What is the Cause of Concussion in Dogs?
Dogs can get concussions in many ways:
- being hit by a car
- being in a car accident
- rough housing by themselves or with other animals or their family members
- accidentally being struck with a ball, baseball bat, tool, etc. while around people
- falling or being dropped
- running into walls or trees
- suffering an attack from another dog or large animal
- being deliberately or accidentally kicked by a large animal
- something falling on them
- suffering abuse
Signs of Concussion in Dogs
You are probably wondering how to tell if a dog has a concussion. First, know that you may not detect that the dog has a concussion until some time after the injury. There is quite a range of time for symptoms to develop. Sometimes, the symptoms may appear immediately or within a few minutes while others may take days. The average time for symptoms to appear is within a few hours. If your dog appears fine immediately after a known injury, or your dog appears ill but didn't just suffer an injury, don't be surprised.
Common dog concussion symptoms include:
- visible injury to their head
- bleeding from their nose or ears
- loss of consciousness
- un-dilated or oddly dilated pupils and other eye abnormalities
- mobility issues
- difficulty standing
- disorientation or confusion
- a change in attitude or behavior, such as being suddenly depressed or withdrawn
- difficulty breathing
- loss of bowel control
- loss of appetite
The dog could also go into shock and would display symptoms such as, pale or white gums, rapid breathing, a rapid but faint heartbeat, and a low body temperature.
After a head injury, your dog may be too upset to act normally, giving you the false impression that they have a concussion or making it difficult for you to recognize the actual signs. It is important to calm a stressed dog down to assess their symptoms, keep them from suffering more, and get them to the vet, if they need it.
Can dogs sleep after concussion?
You may not want to allow your dog to go to sleep for the first few hours after a known or suspected head injury so you can judge whether they are lethargic or not and notice other symptoms, but if you are still concerned about them after this time enough to wonder if they can sleep or not, you should call their vet for advice to be sure. They can't stay awake as long as the period could take for them to show symptoms and the stress of making them stay awake for extended periods is both not good for them and not an accurate representation of their health.
Dog concussions and dog breeds
While most dogs have thick skulls, some dog breeds, like toy breeds and those with short skulls, have unusually delicate skulls, particularly those with open fontanels, space between the bones. These dogs should be taken to the vet immediately after a known or suspected head injury, without waiting for symptoms.
The "does my dog have a concussion?" protocol
When your dog appears to have a concussion, there is a protocol you should follow to keep them as safe as possible.
The first step, as stated above, is to calm the dog down as best you can. They are probably upset by their experience and acting anxious, making it hard to fully comprehend their damage and to help them.
If your dog shows any signs of a concussion or has any visible sign of a head injury, they need to either get to the vet immediately or you should call the vet immediately to get a professional opinion on their exact situation, if it doesn't seem that serious based on what you know happened and see in your dog.
Dog breeds with open fontanels must always be taken to the vet immediately.
If the dog has a bleeding head wound, apply pressure to it to stop the bleeding. For any visible head wound, even a bruise, a cold compress might make them feel better.
If the dog shows signs of shock, as listed above, elevate their head and watch them to see if you need to perform CPR.
If the vet cannot immediately rule out a concussion, they may keep them overnight to observe their symptoms and be ready to address emergencies. Very ill dogs may be kept for multiple days for treatment.
The vet will:
- check their blood to ensure their organs are functioning as they should to determine if shock is setting in before taking their next step.
- check the dog's heart and lungs and give them oxygen or intravenous fluids as needed.
- potentially give anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce swelling in the brain.
- perform neurological tests to assess the damage to the brain.
- potentially perform surgery to repair damage to the brain or skull or damage elsewhere from secondary injuries.
Dog concussion treatment
Most dog concussions, as with human concussions, have to heal themselves. Except for extreme situations, the vet and you will create favorable conditions for the brain to do its thing. Your role is to monitor the dog to ensure the injury or a secondary condition doesn't need emergency treatment.
Try to keep them pretty sedate, not encouraging them to do a lot of playing or allowing them to rough house. If it is darker and quieter in your house, this will help the dog stay relaxed and less motivated to get rambunctious. Consider possible ways they might hurt themselves. For instance, if your home has stairs, keep them downstairs while they are healing or only let them use the stairs when you are with them. If they can't control themselves as they normally do, they might cause a secondary injury. This should be prevented for at least two weeks, if possible.
Head wounds will probably require dressings, ointments, and oral medications. You should follow instructions from your vet as closely as you can manage.
Ensure they are eating normally. They need to get adequate nutrition to heal as they should. If they can't or won't eat a healthy amount of nutritious food, they'll have to be fed by hand or with tube feeding. They may have to eat soft foods, if the injury damaged their skull around their mouth or impacted their ability to eat normally.
If they are lying down a lot and running the risk of developing bed sores or urine scalding, encourage them to change positions more often and be proactive about preventing and treating any potential sores. They don't have to lie down all the time, if they can sit up. Just minimize their running around.
If there is any sign of worsening or a secondary injury, call the vet or take them to the vet.
Outlook for Dog Concussions
With prompt treatment, most dog concussions cause no long-term damage.
It is possible for the most serious injuries or ones where secondary injuries occurred for the dog to suffer long-lasting or permanent reduced abilities, whether neurological or physical. For instance, they may lose mental functions, suffer seizures, or the portion of the skull or other body part damaged may never fully work again. Some dogs die from the immediate damage or related damage.
When faced with concussion in dogs, it is crucial to get vet care as soon as possible and protect the dog as well as you can with monitoring and care. Should your dog be one of the unlucky ones with long-term damage, know there are ways you can help them maintain a fulfilling life not so dissimilar from their normal one. Special, soft diets can help dogs with damaged mouths, treatments can help with seizures, wheelchairs can help paralyzed or unstable dogs get exercise and play, and you may even be able to repair neurological damage.
Preventing concussion in dogs
Concussions are so much the result of accidents that it is hard to prevent them.
You can lessen the chances of dog concussions happening by:
- keeping your dog in a fenced yard.
- engaging in defensive driving.
- ensuring they are properly leash trained.
- being mindful of things that may fall on them from the tops of shelves or things that need to be repaired or replaced.
- limiting their exposure to vicious animals or people where possible.
- if family members are engaged in a sport, ensuring they know the dog is present, and not just letting them loose in the yard without warning.
- carrying small dogs around less often and being very, very careful when you do.
How CBD Oil can Help with Dog Concussions
CBD oil shows promise in offering a dizzying array of health benefits, many of which can be of help in your dog concussion treatment.
Consider CBD oil for your dog's:
- lack of appetite
- wound healing
- antibacterial needs
- neurological damage
Be sure to give a dose of CBD oil that will promote relaxation rather than one that energizes. It is converse to your treatment goals to give the dog an energy boost, even if it is subtle, when you don't want them too active.
These benefits mean CBD oil might help you with the management of a dog concussion as well as management of potential long-term effects.
The star ingredient in CBD oil is cannabidiol which comes from the hemp plant. You've probably heard of the benefits of medical marijuana. Well, CBD oil is very similar, only it contains no THC, is legal in every state, and actually has more reliable and long-lasting benefits than marijuana. Marijuana contains a little cannabidiol and a lot of THC, which makes it mostly fun with some powerful health benefits. Most of the helpful aspect comes from the cannabidiol, so the fact that hemp contains mostly cannabidiol and virtually no THC makes it a much more logical option for health-related purposes.
Cannabidiol works because dogs(as well as humans and other animals) have an endocannabinoid system that scientists have recently discovered. It creates and regulates its own cannabinoids using cannabinoid receptors all over the body to maintain homeostasis, or the balance that makes everything run the way it should. External cannabinoids like cannabidiol work in the body much the same as the body's own cannabinoids, making up for deficiencies and providing a needed boost in times of stress.
CBD oil is growing in popularity because it offers a single natural and gentle option to address so many hard-to-treat ailments. In order to help your dog in traditional ways, you may have to give them several harsh medications that may be scary or even impossible for your dog to take.
Most dogs experience no side effects while taking CBD oil, but they could experience diarrhea, loss of appetite, or sedation, particularly when taking large amounts. There is no known instance of a CBD oil overdose.
You should tell your vet if you are giving your dog CBD oil if they are already taking a medication or the vet prescribes a new medication or treatment for your dog. CBD oil impacts how the liver absorbs medications so the doses may have to be changed to work as expected.
Scientists have so far received conflicting results about how CBD oil affects the health of the liver. Some report that it actually repairs liver damage while others compare its effects to alcohol or acetaminophen in humans. You could discuss risks versus benefits with your vet.
CBD oil has not received general FDA approval yet because it hasn't had time to be fully tested. This means that while users report miraculous changes in themselves and their dogs and scientists find exciting results, no one can actually guarantee its effectiveness. Scary traditional medications are indeed scary, but vets also have a very clear and time-tested understanding of the benefits and risks of those medications. It is best to use CBD oil as a secondary treatment option or for ailments that aren't life-threatening. Though if your dog can't take traditional treatments, CBD oil might be used in their place and many vets will be supportive and knowledgeable about this option.
Innovations from Innovet
We create scientifically backed CBD oil products for pets, including CBD oil tinctures, capsules, crunchy treats, soft treats, and balms. It is important to us to provide quality products at reasonable prices. You can also rest assured that you're getting what you're paying for by reading our third-party tests, proving the amount of cannabidiol matches what's on the label and that there isn't an active amount of THC. While you're in our store, you might be interested in also purchasing some eco-friendly poop bags, dental and ear cleaning supplies, or anti-pest products.
Dog concussions can be hard to treat. If your dog is suffering or could be much happier and no traditional or even CBD option helps them, let us know. We love to innovate for pets.
Sources:Can Dogs Get Concussions?
Spontaneous nervous system concussion in dogs
Head Trauma: Assessment & Management
Brain Injury in Dogs
Concussions in Dogs