Dog Concussions and Brain Injury


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As is often the case with my posts, this one begins with a crazy dog story involving one of my Boxers. We can call it, oh, I don’t know, how about…

…Leroy Versus SpongeBob: The Ultimate Battle!

I have mentioned before that I enjoy going to yard sales. I often go with my friend, Jill, who is chronically late, but that’s a whole other story (see 3 Things You Need to Consider Before You Bring Your New Puppy Home).On the day I’m going to tell you about, Jill had another commitment and couldn’t go bargain-hunting with me. No problem, it was a nice cool day so I figured I’d take Leroy along, and he could nap peacefully in the car while I looked for great deals. I left Janice at home because she had recently had a litter and I wanted her to stay with the puppies.

So, Leroy and I set off in search of cool stuff – and oh, the cool stuff I found! I picked up a slow cooker for five bucks, a pair of barely worn Reeboks for $4, and the piece de resistance – a talking SpongeBob SquarePants cookie jar! It was beyond wonderful – when you lifted up the lid, you’d be greeted with SpongeBob’s distinctive “Bahahahahaaaaa!”

Yes, I know, I’m an adult. But I love SpongeBob. So sue me.

The trouble started on the way home. I put all my purchases in the back seat of my car, and set off for home with Leroy curled up on the front seat next to me. For a while, everything was fine. But then we hit the bumpy section of road that leads up to our little house. Every time we hit a bump, SpongeBob’s lid would come up. “Bahahahahaaaaa!”

Poor Leroy is, as I have suggested from time to time, is a bit of a doofus. He thought he was under attack, and he started to panic, basically bouncing all over the place, trying to get away from horrible, evil, vicious SpongeBob. Have you ever seen a Boxer try to crawl under the dash of a Ford Focus? It’s not a pretty sight.

So I was trying to soothe Leroy, with no success, and finally he totally lost it and tried to escape through the windshield. At this point, Leroy versus SpongeBob (no contest; SpongeBob was obviously winning) became Leroy versus windshield.

I guess you’d have to call it a draw. A huge star-shaped crack erupted in my windshield, and Leroy sat back on his haunches and shook his head. At that point, I was thinking, “Is this bad? Do dogs get concussions? Is he going to be okay?

So, Do Dogs Get Concussions?

The short answer to this is yes, they do. I think I already knew that on some level. Obviously, if a blow to the head is severe enough, a concussion can result in pretty much any animal. Fortunately, Leroy has a very thick skull.

Okay, I’m not saying that in a derogatory way. I know that I have suggested from time to time that Leroy is not the sharpest tool in the shed (see Help, My Dog Ate a Battery!), but what I mean here is that canines are less prone to concussions because the bone of the skull is quite dense. And I don’t mean that Leroy is – oh, never mind.

Signs of Concussion in a Dog

Dog concussions are the same as human concussions – they are injuries to the brain resulting from trauma to the head. Given the thickness of a dog’s skull, you probably do not have to worry if your dog has come into contact with an object that will move to some extent. Just as an example, I couldn’t tell you how many times my two have banged their heads under coffee tables. They shake it off and go about their business.

Most of the time, concussions in dogs result something far more serious, like motor vehicle accidents, bites from other, bigger dogs, bad falls, or horrendous abuse – being up close and personal with a baseball bat that is being held by a supposed “human” who is not remotely worthy of the name, for instance. Any trauma to the skull should be closely monitored. If you notice any behavioral changes (unusual excitement, for instance, or lethargy), loss of motor control, hemorrhaging in the ears, or even your dog just looking a bit off (un-Leroy-ish, if you like), a trip to the vet is warranted. And please, don’t waste time – your dog’s life could be at stake.

Two Types of Brain Injury

You can break brain injuries down into two basic categories, although they can both be lumped under the catch-all phrase “dog concussions.” The first is primary injury – itis what happens at the moment of impact, and it is what disrupts the dog’s intracranial structures. If there is vascular tearing (a rip in the artery that delivers the blood to the brain) or hemorrhaging from the ears, they will usually occur at the primary stage. Assuming that you have done what you should, and taken your dog to the vet, the focus will be on reducing the effects of the primary injury in order to prevent complications, which could include tissue damage, swelling, a breakdown in the blood-brain barrier, and not enough oxygen getting to the brain. These complications are the secondary injuries.

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Diagnosing Concussion in Dogs

When you bring your dog to the vet with a head injury, the vet will first ask you about any symptoms of dog concussion that your pet might have displayed. Has he been turning in circles or appearing uncoordinated? Does he seem disoriented? Is he unresponsive to your voice? Then, your dog will be checked for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hypothermia and hyperthermia (respectively, dangerously low and dangerously high body temperature). A blood count will also be done. All these tests are important in determining your dog’s overall condition.

Fortunately, modern veterinary medicine has advanced to the point where the tests for signs of concussion in a dog are essentially as good as they are for humans. Your dog can benefit from CT scans and MRIs to determine if there has been a brain injury. They are not always used, though, for the simple reason that you can’t exactly tell a dog to lie still while the scans are being done. That means that your dog has to be heavily sedated to prevent him from moving. So, rather than sedate your dog, which can be problematic if there are signs that a dog has a concussion, your vet will use other methods first.

Treating Dog Concussions

Before resorting to MRIs and CT scans, your vet will make sure that your dog’s airway is clear. This is important, because oxygen has to be delivered to the brain. He or she may also use a nasal tube to make it easier for your dog to breathe, and may also introduce fluids intravenously. You can also expect that your dog will be given medication for anxiety and pain, and perhaps an anticonvulsant as well if the dog is experiencing seizures.

Nutrition is also a very important component of treatment when it comes to dogs and concussions. If your dog has sustained a traumatic brain injury, there is a good chance that he will be hospitalized for at least 24 hours. Over his recovery, he will probably also lose weight. Your vet will begin a proper nutritional protocol, and then advise you as to what you should feed your dog when you take him home.

The Potential for Recovery

The likelihood of recovery when it comes to dog concussions depends on several factors – the extent of the injury, the dog’s general condition and age, and any other injuries that might have accompanied the concussion. Sometimes, dogs with concussions return to full normality. Other times, they do not, and may require physical therapy and medication for as long as they live.

If you see signs of concussion in a dog, the most important thing is to get him to the vet with all possible speed. The minutes that elapse between the time that the injury occurs and the time that the dog is treated can make all the difference in the world.In cases of dog concussions, believe me, time, next to your veterinarian, is your dog’s best friend.

Cost of Treatment for Dog Concussions

Oh, come on, who cares? This is your dog we’re talking about! I would never put a price on Leroy’s life, and if it meant the difference between saving him and losing him I would happily sell everything I have and even take out a second mortgage. Generally speaking, though, treatment for dog concussions will range in the hundreds of dollars. Nasal catheters to deliver oxygen to your dog’s brain will range between $30 and $65, fluid therapy anywhere from $40 to $100, pain meds around $65 and anticonvulsants $20-$40. Of course if your dog ends up needing surgery, you can be on the hook for much more. If the injury is so severe that it requires long-term management, again, there will be costs involved, but as I have often suggested, you can’t put a price on the love that you get from your dog.

Back to Leroy

So, what happened with my big, fearful, destructive doofus? Nothing other than the need for a bit of soothing. Leroy presented none of the signs that I’ve outlined above, so I didn’t feel the need to rush him off to see Stephen, our veterinarian. I did monitor him very closely for a couple of days, though, just to see if he was becoming “un-Leroy-ish.” Thankfully, he benefited from that amazingly hard canine skull that so often prevents dog concussions even in the face of incredible blows.

As to my yard sale finds, I’ve been using the slow cooker quite a bit (try this – a pound of stewing meat, a package of brown gravy mix and a jar of salsa: mix it all up and set the slow cooker for 8 hours – that’s all it takes and it is awesome served over rice), and the Reeboks are standing me in good stead when I take Janice and Leroy out for walks. As to SpongeBob, though, I gave the cookie jar to my 10-year-old friend, Lucas, who lives down the road and thinks that Janice and Leroy are “wicked!” Poor Leroy just can’t live compatibly with SpongeBob.

Of course I had to replace the windshield in my car. The auto glass guy asked me why in the world it looked like the damage had come from the inside, so I told him the same story I told you. He was amused. He was also well compensated for replacing the windshield. I guess I’ll take the cost out of Leroy’s allowance.

No, my dogs do not get an allowance. At least they never did, but I guess I’m going to have to start giving them one – otherwise, how can I take the cost of the windshield repair out of Leroy’s? So much to think about.

Related Content:

Treating Dog Bite Wounds(Video)
Pain Treatment and Medication for Dogs (Video)
The Benefits of Canine Massage for Injured Muscles

The Final Word

Most of the time, when a dog takes a hit to the head, it’s not a big issue. Dogs are very good at shaking off significant blows thanks to the thickness of their skulls. Just about anything, though, under the right circumstances, can crack or break, and your dog’s skull is no exception. So if you’re saying to yourself, “I think my dog has a concussion,” don’t waste any more time thinking – get him to the vet. Time can be of the essence when it comes to treating brain trauma, and you don’t want to take any chances with your best friend’s life. Dog concussions are rare, but they can happen.