Pet Health

All you need to know about brain injuries in dogs

October 13, 2011

Managing Brain injuries in dogs

Being a loving and caring master for your dog is tougher than it sounds, especially when it comes to the aspect of providing appropriate medical health care. Regular check-ups, scheduled vaccinations and adequate precautions are what it takes for a pet to be healthy and stay that way.

However, the healthiest and most-well maintained pets can also develop serious and fatal conditions, among which brain injuries are important. This write-up focuses on various aspects of suspected brain injuries in dogs including causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.


To understand the causes leading to injuries of the brain, the two types of injuries must be understood:

1) Primary brain injuries

This kind of injuries, when sustained, cannot undergo any alteration and stay as they are, without further pathological changes. They are caused due to direct traumatic impact to the brain.

2) Secondary brain injuries

These kind of injuries are a result of inflammatory and immunological changes occurring in brain tissues after a primary injury. They can be treated and managed more effectively as they have a better prognosis than traumatic injuries and lack the component of mechanical force being a causative factor.

Some other causes of brain injuries are listed below:

(a) Severe hypothermia or hyperthermia

(b) Decreased blood glucose levels – pathological hypoglycemia

(c) Epileptic episodes

(d) Elevated BP; much above normal range

(e) Presence of brain parasites like Echinococcus granulosus, a cestode tapeworm

(f) Neurological neoplastic growth

(g) Central Nervous System (CNS) infections which may be bacterial, viral, protozoal or fungal

(h) Drug-related or idiopathic toxicity

(i) Diseases causing immuno-suppression or debilitation


In case of any history of trauma to the head or other predisposing factors, the following symptoms must be looked into –

  1. Epileptic seizures: Also a common cause of brain injuries
  2. Syncope: Due to oxygen deficiency in the brain (cerebral ischemia)
  3. Abnormal posture or stance
  4. Uncoordinated or irregular movements
  5. Otorrhagia (ear bleed) or Epistaxis (nose bleed)
  6. Retinal bleeding
  7. Cyanosis: This is characterized by bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes; indicating decreased oxygen carrying capacity of the blood
  8. Hypoxia: Decreased amounts of oxygen reaching body organs and tissues
  9. Ecchymosis: Mucus membranes show a diffused purplish or pinkish patch; this may also be present under the skin due to veins and arteries that get ruptured
  10. Petechial Hemorrhages: Reddish or purplish spots on the body
  11. Irregular breathing cycles, dyspnea (forceful breathing) or tachypnea (quickened breathing)
  12. Arrhythmias and altered heart rate, namely bradycardia (decreased heart rate) or tacchycardia ( increased heart rate)


Establishing a rapid diagnosis is essential to carry out effective treatment. Apart from the symptoms described above, the following investigations should also be carried out:

1) Urine Routine Examination

2) Total blood picture, which includes:

  • RBC count
  • WBC count – Total and Differential
  • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)
  • Hemoglobin count
  • Blood glucose level – fasting and postprandial

3) X-Ray of the skull

4) Computed Tomography scan (CT scan)

5) Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Investigations 3, 4 and 5 help in determining the extent of trauma the brain tissue has sustained. They also aid in confirming the presence of blood loss, broken bones, foreign bodies, cancerous growths, or any other neurological complication.

6) ECG (Electrocardiogram) – to evaluate heart functions and rhythm.

7) Cerebro-spinal Fluid (CSF) sample – to evaluate and confirm the extent of inflammatory reactions and to confirm any infection. It also helps in providing a differential diagnosis.


Any suspected injury to the brain is a medical emergency and delay, no matter how little, can prove to be fatal. The following salient points should be kept in mind:

1) The primary objective is to maintain three parameters called the ‘ABC’ triad.

  • Airway: Ensure the dog’s airway is clear and free from any blockage or obstruction
  • Breathing: Ensure that the dog is able to inspire and expire air.
  • Circulation: Check for the dog’s vitals which include heart rate and blood pressure; ensure its pulse is present and appreciable.

In fact, depending on the cause of the brain injury, surgery may be required.

2) Normalize the dog’s temperature and blood pressure,

3) Provide adequate levels of oxygen and prevent hypoxia.

4) To assist the dog with respiration, an endo-tracheal tube should be passed down the windpipe to supply oxygen.

5) Liquids can be administered to animals with fluid deficits in order to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.

6)The level of the dog’s head must be placed above the rest of the body, otherwise the associated risk of going into coma increases.


1) What are danger signs I must look for?

Fatal signs are, absence of pulse, no respiration, dilated pupils, and soft eyes. If any of these signs are elicited, CPR administration should be given as soon as possible.

2) What should I do if I suspect my dog’s condition has turned critical?

CPR should be administered immediately. In the meanwhile, ask someone to call for medical emergency facilities at the earliest. Even a slight delay can prove to be costly.

3)What is the prognosis?

The result of treatment offered depends on factors like site of injury, causative factors, degree of neural involvement and latent healing capabilities of the dog itself.

4) How are symptoms like edema (fluid accumulation) and seizures treated?

Cerebral edema is treated by administering intravenous cortico-steroids, oxygen, and osmotic agents like mannitol loop diuretics like furosemide. Seizures are controlled with an intravenous or oral anti-convulsant such as diazepam (Valium).

5) When can my dog be brought back home from the hospital?

Only fully alert dogs, free from seizures, and exhibiting no nervous system manifestations should be allowed to return home.

6) Will my dog suffer from any disability after medical treatment?

There are chances of developing a post-traumatic syndrome that is characterized by seizures, mood swings, head tilt and total or partial loss of vision.

7) Is the information provided reliable and accurate?

Efforts have been made to keep the presentation mistake-free, it is possible that errors may have crept in. However, for all opinion on medical aspects, it is advised you to consult your vet to be on the safe side.

Preventive measures

1) Keep your dog’s environment free from potential hazards like heavy machinery and old, heavy furniture.

2) Have a thorough knowledge about the dog’s pedigree and make your purchase only from reputed breeders.

3) Provide a well-controlled diet. Small pups should be given only low-calorie food. Evidence shows that overweight puppies are more likely to develop orthopedic complications

4) Monitor calcium intake, especially in large-breed dogs.

5) Be careful and watchful if your dog is without a leash and runs away frequently.

6) When you are riding with your dog, make sure it does not poke its head out of the window.

You Might Also Like