Signs a Dog Has a Concussion

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A close-up of a veterinarian examining a dog on a table.
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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, take him to a vet immediately. Long-term damage can result if a severe concussion isn't identified and treated promptly.

Causes of Concussion

Dogs can get concussions the same way people do. Falls from high elevations, 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. Small dogs with open fontanels are particularly susceptible to concussion. The severity of a head injury can be difficult to judge without an exam, because there may be unseen internal swelling or bleeding. Medical attention for suspected concussion is always recommended.

Signs of Head Trauma

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 may 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 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 Concussion

A concussion that leads to unconsciousness may be brief, or it may last several hours or even days, depending on its severity. Your vet will likely conduct physical and neurological exams to assess your dog. Treatment method 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 may be treated with diuretics, oxygen and corticosteroids. Minor concussions may just need rest and observation, while severe cases could require surgery.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.