Signs of Head Trauma in Dogs

Head trauma to dogs can be devastating. When an accident occurs and your dog is injured, it is extremely important that you take your canine companion to the vet or animal hospital, especially if she is showing signs of head trauma. A brain injury can be fatal and head injuries should be considered medical emergencies. Since it is very difficult to tell how severe the trauma is, have a medical professional scope out the symptoms as soon as possible. Be sure to give any details to your vet about any accident or fight your dog may have been in, but if an injury occurred out of your view, it is important to look for common signs of head trauma.

Ill dog
credit: Chalabala/iStock/GettyImages

Common Causes of Head Trauma

Motor vehicle accidents are responsible for most cases of head trauma in canines. Other examples are colliding with objects, fights with other animals, penetrating wounds from bites or gunshots, and falling down stairs or from tall buildings. Dogs can sometimes experience head trauma by being stepped on, as well. While this may be enough for you to want to keep your pup in a bubble where she is safe, the reality is that you and your dog have to interact with the outside world. Being aware of your surroundings, keeping your dog on a leash when on walks, and teaching some basic commands like "come" or "stay" will help keep her from harm.

Potential signs of head trauma in dogs are:

  • Tilting of the head
  • Unusual posture or irregular movements
  • Pupil size discrepancies
  • Abnormal eye movement
  • Stiffness or slackness of the limbs
  • Unconsciousness
  • Bleeding of the ear canals or nostrils
  • Seizures
  • Stumbling
  • Disorientation
  • Lethargy
  • Heavy or rapid breathing

Signs of head trauma in dogs are not always apparent to owners. If your dog injures his head, don't assume that he's OK just because he's not displaying any clear symptoms at the moment. Some dogs develop internal bleeding such as intracranial hemorrhaging due to head trauma. If that's the case, a veterinarian can determine exactly what's going on and treat the issue accordingly. Also be aware of the signs of a concussion since head trauma can result in brain injury or concussion.

Skull Fractures

Skull fractures are another possible consequence of head trauma. If a dog suffers an injury from impact with a moving car or a fall to the ground from a high location, he could fracture the bones of his skull. Indications of skull fracture in dogs include:

  • Coma
  • Blindness
  • Changes in behavior
  • Seizures
  • Circling or tilting of the head
  • Loss of coordination

Seek medical care immediately if you fear your dog has a fractured skull.

Broken Jaw

Head trauma can also result in a broken mandible. If a dog fractures his lower jaw, he could exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Problems shutting his mouth
  • Salivation
  • Pain during eating

Brain Injury

Perhaps the most severe consequence of a head trauma for dogs is brain injury. There are two kinds of brain injuries: primary brain injury and secondary brain injury. Primary brain injuries occur when there is direct trauma to the brain and unfortunately any damage done is permanent. Secondary brain injuries occur after a primary injury, for example as a result of bruising or swelling, and can often be managed and treated.

Transporting an Injured Dog to the Vet

Since a head trauma is nothing to mess around with, taking your injured dog to the vet is a must. Remember to keep your pup as comfortable as possible. Utilizing some vet approved techniques for moving your dog can help prevent further injury or complications. Be sure to handle your dog as little as possible and minimize movement. Encourage your dog to lie down and stay as still as possible. Cover her with a blanket and drive carefully.

What to Expect at the Vet

When you arrive at the vet or animal hospital, there are several tests you can expect to be run on your dog right away. In order to have a better understanding of what happened, your vet will ask you a series of questions about the injury, your dog's medical history and onset of symptoms. They may take blood for testing. Your vet may also recommend an x-ray of the head and neck in order assess any broken bones or damage. A CT (computerized tomography) scan may also be recommended, especially if there are signs of brain injury.