Do Puppies Have Soft Spots On Their Head?

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When human babies are born, they have a soft spot on the top of their heads where their bones are not completely fused together. This is called a fontanel. The purpose of the fontanel in their skull is to allow for easier passage through the birth canal and also to allow space for the bones to grow as they enlarge. These bone interruptions are commonly known as "soft spots." Puppies, like people, often have open fontanels as well.


Puppies, like people, often have open fontanels as well.

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It's important to be gentle and mindful when caring for young puppies, especially in the area of their soft spot. Make sure they're not at a height where they can fall. Keep areas clear so they do not risk bumping their head on something. Take extra care when handling a newborn puppy, especially in this part of the skull.


Soft spots & puppies

When many mammal babies are born, there will be an opening in their skull. The skull plates are soft to allow flexibility for a safe vaginal delivery so the head won't be damaged. The fontanels will start to harden slowly after birth.

Puppies, like humans and other animals, have these soft spots, though the time it takes for them to close varies by breed and circumstances. Most soft spots close by the time puppies are finished weaning, which is between 4 and 6 weeks of age. However, for some smaller breeds of dogs, especially toy breeds, soft spots close later or may not close at all. This can lead to potential complications but does not always cause pain or problems for dogs.


Long-term soft spots in dogs

For certain small breeds, soft spots remain well past the newborn period. Among dogs most likely to have fontanels that remain open, leaving gaps between the grow plates, are toy breeds including miniature dachshund, Yorkshire terriers, Shih Tzus, Maltese, and Chihuahuas, with some even having this skull characteristic as part of their breed standard. This makes these dogs more delicate and fragile but usually does not cause them pain or discomfort. This genetic mutation cannot be corrected medically, and breeding is discouraged to avoid passing it down to more dogs.


Hydrocephalus in puppies

Open fontanels can sometimes lead to other health issues, however, such as hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus, or "water on the brain," is a common problem in dogs with fontanels that do not close. Having the opening in their skull makes them more at risk for developing this genetic health problem, which occurs when cerebrospinal fluid leaks into the brain due to the gap.

Dogs will start showing symptoms at 8 to 12 weeks old, including downward facing eyes and sometimes seizures. This is often a fatal condition, and it can be congenital or caused by a tumor. Reach out to your veterinarian if you notice symptoms of hydrocephalus in your puppy, as surgery or various treatments are available that may improve the problem. If treatment is successful, dogs with genetic hydrocephalus should never be bred.


Protecting a puppy's skull

Puppies need extra care in general in terms of feeding and careful handling. This also applies to their skull. Even if the area of a dog's open fontanel only gets a mild injury, it could be damaging to the brain since it is not protected by a fully formed bone.

To avoid your puppy having an injury, especially while his fontanel is open or if it does not close, there are many ways to puppyproof your home to keep things safe. Using a crate can create a cozy, safe space where your dog can have time to himself or to stay out of certain areas when you are busy. Gates can help block a puppy from a potentially dangerous part of the home, such as the stairs, where there is a risk of falling.


Extra care needs to be taken with dogs who have open fontanels, but all dogs should be lifted out of vehicles gently to avoid hard impact jumps that could result in a fall. Add traction to any slippery areas, such as smooth floors or slick bathtubs, to reduce risk of sliding into a wall. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for any potential hazards when you take your dog out to walk or play.