If your dog experiences any type of head trauma, he could have a concussion or another brain injury. If you see your dog get hurt, particularly to the point of being knocked unconscious, or if you observe signs indicating potential head injury such as dilated pupils, vomiting, or a shaky walk, take him to a vet immediately. Long-term damage can result if a severe dog concussion isn't identified and treated promptly.
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Causes of dog concussion
Dogs can get concussions the same way people do. Falls from high elevations, being hit with blunt objects like a bat or swing, car accidents, running into hard objects, and head butts or kicks that result from rough play are the kinds of things that can lead to concussion. Also, small dogs with open fontanelles are particularly susceptible to concussion. Open fontanelles are openings in the skull resulting from incomplete closure of bony plates during normal puppy growth.
Most dogs lose these soft spots by ages 6 to 12 weeks. Some small breeds such as toy and tea cup breeds, American Maltese, and Chihuahuas keep these fontanelles longer, making them more susceptible to head injury. The severity of a head injury can be difficult to judge without an exam, because there might be unseen internal swelling or bleeding. Medical attention for suspected concussion is always recommended.
Signs of canine head trauma
Dog concussions are difficult to notice because signs of dog concussions vary and sometimes look like other issues: rigid or flaccid limbs, abnormal level of consciousness, unusual eye movement, bleeding from nose or ears, and seizures. If your dog's pupils look different or don't appear to dilate, or if he has trouble standing, walking or holding his balance, he might have a concussion.
Lethargy, disorientation, paralysis, falling down, seizures, and vomiting are some additional signs of head injury that can be signs of other serious physical disorders and medical conditions — so prompt medical attention is necessary to properly assess the situation.
Treating canine head injury
Fear and pain can increase the chances of a dog going into shock. If you suspect a concussion or other head injury, keep the dog calm calm if he's conscious, and cover him with a blanket. Signs of shock include weakness, shivering or convulsions, rapid breathing, and fast but weak pulse.
Transport your dog to the vet as quickly as possible with his head elevated above his hindquarters to reduce intracranial pressure. If your dog loses consciousness, keep him breathing by gently opening his mouth and pulling his tongue as far forward as you can to open his airway. If your dog stops breathing, perform CPR.
Impact of dog concussion
A concussion that leads to unconsciousness can be brief, or it can last several hours or even days, depending on its severity. Your vet will likely conduct physical and neurological exams to assess your dog. The method of treatment will be determined according to the factors that caused the concussion, and the resulting damage.
A concussion that leads to brain swelling can occur as late as 24 hours after an injury; it can be treated with diuretics, oxygen, and corticosteroids. Minor concussions, however, might need rest and observation, while severe cases could require surgery.