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Helping a Dog with Concussion at Home: Our Vet Shares What to Do

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dog with concussion and bandage around the head

We would all prefer that our dogs came in bubble wrap to help cushion and protect them from the world. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case and pups get hurt, sometimes severely. One of those injuries is a concussion. Concussions in dogs can range from mild to severe. Even mild concussions warrant consulting your vet.

After the initial assessment and treatment your vet may send your pup home for further monitoring. If your vet gives you the go-ahead to help your dog with a concussion at home, here’s what you need to know:

Overview of concussion in dogs

A concussion is usually something we associate with contact sports, daredevil stunts, vehicle accidents, or general clumsiness, but most of the time when we hear “concussion”, it’s assumed the patient is human. Many may have never considered the possibility of concussion in companion dogs.

Any time our pets experience physical trauma, it’s natural to be concerned, especially if it’s a head injury. Concussions can happen in dogs just as they do in humans, and in the same way, a concussion can have serious implications. Because dogs can’t communicate with us the way a human concussion patient would, it’s important to learn how to provide care and how to recognize signs of an issue.

First-aid at home for your dog after a head injury

In the event of a head injury, it’s important to seek care quickly. As soon as you believe a head injury has occurred, keep your dog calm and minimize movement, then contact your dog’s veterinarian or the nearest veterinary emergency center to get instructions for care and to schedule a visit.

If there are any wounds present, avoid handling them as they will be painful, and attempting to clean or treat them at home is not in your dog’s best interest. If necessary, pressure can be applied over a wound that is bleeding significantly.

Signs that your dog’s head injury or concussion is serious

Signs of concussion in a dog might present with:

  1. Persistent vomiting
  2. Loss of consciousness
  3. Seizures or difficulty standing
  4. Uneven pupil size
  5. Disorientation and lethargy

Working with your vet to help a dog with a concussion

Veterinary expertise is key for proper concussion management. If your dog has experienced a head injury or exhibits the signs listed above associated with some other physical trauma, get an appointment with your dog’s vet or an emergency veterinary office ASAP. They’ll be able to tailor treatment to your dog’s personal needs; this may include:

  • A thorough review of your dog’s medical history, past and present
  • Physical examination where the doctor will look your dog over and assess things like pupil size and shape, signs of pain or swelling, and other signs of trauma
  • Diagnostic tests including x-rays to look for fractures, bruising, or other signs of trauma
  • Observation by trained professionals who can look for signs of a concussion, or worsening concussion
  • Dog-safe prescription medications to manage pain
  • Sometimes advanced care with treatments that can reduce brain swelling if the concussion is severe

What to do to help a dog with concussion at home

After your vet’s assessment and treatment, they’ll send your dog home with you. Their home-care instructions may include:

  • Restricted activity and rest for a period of time (often a couple weeks)
  • Monitoring for signs of abnormal brain function
  • Safe administration of prescription medications
  • Controlled offering of food and water, including recommended frequencies and volumes to make sure your pet is getting sufficient nutrition and hydration, without over-doing it
  • Return to the vet if you notice any negatives changes in your dog’s behavior

Would a vet be able to help over a video call?

Virtual vet consultations are an option in many urgent situations for quick assessment and advice without a trip to the vet. While they lack tests, they can help gauge severity and guide next steps. A video call veterinary visit may be useful to get an initial perspective on your dog’s head injury but in most cases of trauma involving the head, they’ll recommend a visit in-person with a veterinarian for better assessment.

A video call will not allow you to seek care in the form of observation from veterinary professionals, diagnostics like x-rays, or certain medical treatments like IV infusions to reduce brain swelling

Preventing future concussions in dogs

It’s impossible to eliminate all risk of head trauma and concussion in dogs because accidents happen. However by reducing the risk of common causes of head trauma, you’ll also reduce your dog’s risk. Common causes of head trauma that may lead to concussion include:

  1. Car accidents: When your dog is riding in the car with you, use approved restraints such as dog seat belts or kennels.
  2. Contain your dog in and out of the home: Prevent trauma from being hit by a car or being attacked by other animals.
  3. Supervise during play: While play may not seem like a big deal, it’s important to pay attention when dogs are playing too aggressively, when play is happening between a large dog and a small dog, or when dogs aren’t aware of their surroundings during play (running into stationary objects).
  4. Prevent falls from any height: Make sure decks and stairs have railings and are up to code, close up any dog-sized openings, keep windows closed from the bottom; only open from the top when possible, keep furniture away from windows to prevent dogs from climbing out of them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I give my dog any over-the-counter pain medications?

Over-the-counter pain medications should never be given to a dog, but especially not if they’ve experienced a head injury. Pet store products may say that they are pet safe but if they contain actual pain medication, it’s often aspirin which can be very dangerous to give when a head injury is known to have occurred. There are no pet-safe human medications.

  • Never give ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc) – it can cause gastric ulcers, intestinal ulcers, kidney failure, and even central nervous system signs
  • Never give acetaminophen (Tylenol) – it can cause severe liver damage, and interfere with blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the rest of the body
  • Never give naproxen (Aleve) – it can cause gastrointestinal signs, anemia, and kidney failure.
  • Never give prescription medications meant for humans either. Doses for dogs and humans are very different and some medications that are safe for humans are fatally toxic to dogs.

How long does it take for a dog’s concussion to heal?

Recovery time varies based on your dog’s physical health plus the severity of the injury. With proper treatment, improvement is usually seen within a few days and full recovery may be within a couple of weeks.

With severe head trauma and concussion though, it’s possible there will be permanent damage.

Are there specific breeds more susceptible to concussions?

It’s possible for any dog to end up with a concussion from head trauma. There are no breeds particularly prone, however smaller breeds might be more at risk because of their size.

How do I know if my dog’s condition is worsening?

If your dog was already showing signs but exhibits any of these escalations, it’s likely their condition is getting worse:

  • Increased disorientation or loss of consciousness
  • Persistent, uncontrollable vomiting
  • Altered behavior such as aggression, depression, or new avoidance behavior


  • Dr Chyrle Bonk, Veterinarian

    Dr. Chyrle Bonk received her Master in Animal Science from the University of Idaho and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Oregon State University in 2010. She has over 10 years of experience in small animal veterinary practice, working for a veterinary clinic in Idaho.

  • Kate Howard, Vet Tech

    Kate Howard lives in Upstate New York, and received her degree in Veterinary Technology from Alfred State College of Technology in 2010. She has been a veterinary technician for 13+ years, and spent her career working primarily in general practice and veterinary emergency care. Kate has 3 dogs, a cat, and keeps a small flock of backyard poultry.

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Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.

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