While our pets may seem at times a bit “thick-skulled,” they too are susceptible to brain injuries such as concussions. Concussions are the result of head trauma that is so violent it shakes the brain. Most of the time, concussions are accompanied by loss of consciousness, but this is not always the case. In our pets, head trauma severe enough to cause a concussion is usually caused by being hit by a car, though falls from high places and shaking injuries sustained in fights can also lead to concussed canines and kitties.
Unfortunately, signs of concussions are more difficult to recognize in our pets than they are in humans. Our pets cannot communicate to us, so signs like confusion or headaches will probably go unnoticed. Because head trauma in pets is often sustained along with other injuries (especially in the case of going head-to-head with a car or another animal), concussion symptoms can be overshadowed by more obvious symptoms such as bleeding or respiratory distress.
If your rough and tumble pet has fallen head over heels and there are no other obvious signs of injury, he could still have sustained head trauma severe enough to cause a concussion. Rather than bury your head in the sand, look for any changes in behavior, like depression, aggression or sleepiness. Confusion, loss of balance, altered alertness, changes to pupil size and vomiting or nausea can also be signs of a concussion. Regardless, these symptoms should have you heading to the vet especially if the signs are getting worse over time; severe head trauma can be fatal, especially if the parts of the brain that control breathing are affected.
Concussions are so tricky that even your veterinarian may have trouble getting a definitive diagnosis. However, your vet can make a presumptive diagnosis and begin treating your pet for head trauma, likely keeping them under close observation until they start to improve.
Once your pet is resting comfortably back home, you may still see some changes in behavior. Healing from concussions takes time, and just because he’s been released from the hospital doesn’t mean he’s ready to go back to his normal life. It may take days or weeks until your sidelined pet feels ready get back in the game. Until then, try to take any behavior changes with a grain of salt.
Concussions can be a real pain, but knowing the symptoms that signal head trauma will give you a head start on getting your pet the treatment he needs.