In case you’ve wondered, perhaps after suffering an automobile accident with your dog in the car: Yes, dogs can experience a concussion and the brain injury associated with it. Canine concussions happen because of:
- Accidents involving cars, motorcycles, or other vehicles
- Falling from elevated surfaces like windows, decks, or steep hillsides
- Being dropped or falling onto the ground or a floor
- Collisions with other dogs
- Collisions with trees, buildings, fences, heavy furniture, and other hard surfaces
- Kicks from horses, cattle, or other large animals
- Accidental blunt force injuries such as being hit with a ball, baseball bat, falling tree, tree limb, or falling debris
The point of impact does not have to be the head itself. If severe enough, indirect impact can cause a dog’s brain to move within the skull with enough force to cause a concussion.
What dogs are at risk of concussions?
Obviously, dogs who love to chase cars, play around traffic, or engage in risky behaviors are concussions waiting to happen. So are dogs who ride in cars with their heads out the window, are not in a secure crate, or are not wearing a canine seatbelt. Dogs in cars that get into accidents can hit windshields and roadways with the same consequences as people who aren’t wearing seatbelts.
Most dogs have thick skulls that protect them from minor injuries, but small dogs with delicate skulls such as toy breeds and dogs with short skulls are at greater-than-average risk of concussions. Open fontanelles are soft spots in the skull caused by gaps between the skull’s growth plates, and they exist in all infant puppies. As puppies mature, the skull’s growth plates fuse together and fontanelles gradually close. However, a common genetic condition can prevent fontanelles from closing in:
- miniature Dachshunds
- Shih Tzus
- Yorkshire Terriers
- Lhasa Apsos
The growth plates in these breeds can simply fail to fuse, leaving a persistent soft spot in the skull. This is why young puppies of all breeds and puppies and adults of the breeds listed here should be checked by a veterinarian immediately after any injury that could result in a concussion.
How to tell if your dog has a concussion
Some concussions produce obvious symptoms within a few minutes while others take much longer. A dog with a concussion may appear to be fine immediately after an accident but show symptoms a few hours or even days later.
The most dramatic symptom of a concussion is a loss of consciousness. If your dog is unconscious, call your veterinarian or emergency clinic to let them know what happened, follow their instructions, and bring your dog in as quickly as possible.
If your dog is awake, check for any of the following symptoms and contact your veterinarian at once if you notice:
- A lack of coordination or loss of balance
- Anisocoria, in which the eyes’ pupils are different sizes, with one larger than the other
- A lack of response, depression, looking dull or sedated, seeming disoriented or confused
- Turning in circles
- Shaking or having seizures
- Rapid side-to-side or up-and-down eye movements
- Bleeding from the nose or ears
- Any sign that your dog is going into shock (rapid pulse, bright red gums, the dog is weak or lethargic, eyes glaze over, breathing changes to slow and shallow or deep and rapid)
- Loss of bowel control
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty waking up after dozing or nodding off
- Standing with the head pressed against a wall, called head leaning
- Any other behavior that is unusual for your dog
Even if these symptoms don’t seem severe, it’s important to have your dog checked if you notice any of them because concussions can cause permanent brain damage, and an injured dog may suffer from internal bleeding or get hurt in a second accident that occurs because the original injury interferes with balance and coordination.
How to transport your dog for medical treatment
Be sure to call ahead so the staff at your veterinary clinic can be ready to receive your dog and so you can follow whatever instructions your veterinarian may give.
- If your dog is unconscious, have a friend help you lift her safely into your car using a board or stretcher, if available.
- Try to reposition the dog as little as possible. This is especially important if there might be broken bones or nerve damage.
- If your dog is unconscious, open her mouth and gently pull her tongue forward to ensure that she can breathe, always being cautious when doing so.
- Keep your dog’s head slightly elevated with a pillow or cushion. This will help relieve pressure on the brain.
- Remove your dog’s neck collar so it won’t interfere with blood flow to the brain. If your dog is able to walk and if one is available, use a harness with a leash attachment at the chest in front or on the back, or loop a leash around one side of the neck and between the dog’s front legs.
- In cool or cold weather, cover your dog with a blanket.
- Stay calm and speak soothingly to your dog. Any sensory stimulation can trigger pain, fear, anxiety, or seizures, so stay as relaxed and reassuring as possible.
How will the vet clinic treat your dog for concussion?
Injured dogs with possible concussions are given an overall examination, and if they are in shock, that condition is treated immediately. Supplemental oxygen and intravenous fluids are given as needed along with anti-inflammatory medication to reduce brain swelling.
Depending on the extent of the injury, your dog may be kept overnight or longer for observation or for treatment as needed.
How to help your dog recover from a concussion
When it comes to concussions, time is the main healer. At home your task for at least two weeks will be to make your dog comfortable, calm, and mostly sedentary. Full recovery may take as long as six months. A calm, quiet environment and protection from being disturbed or distracted will speed your dog’s healing.
Stairs can be challenging when a dog’s balance is affected, so keep your dog downstairs or stay with him when climbing stairs to prevent new injuries.
If your dog needs ointments for wounds, dressings, or other medications, follow your veterinarian’s instructions.
Preventing dog concussions
Most concussions – and by far the most serious concussions – occur when dogs get hit by cars, when they fall from high places, or when they are injured by other animals. These interactions are almost always preventable.
- When outdoors, keep your dog on a leash unless you’re in a safe area far from traffic and other distractions.
- Don’t leave your dog outside unless you have a securely fenced yard. An electronic collar-based barrier will not protect your dog from possible injuries.
- When taking your dog for rides in the car, use a well-designed pet seatbelt or other restraint. Practice defensive driving, go slowly, and stay observant to keep your canine passenger safe.