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Brain Injury in Dogs

Brain injuries in dogs can result from various causes, such as extreme hyperthermia or hypothermia, and prolonged seizures. Primary brain injuries involve direct trauma to the brain, which remains unchanged once acquired. Conversely, secondary brain injury refers to the modification of brain tissue following the primary injury. However, with appropriate supportive care and treatment, secondary brain injuries can be managed, prevented, and even improved.

Symptoms and Types

Given its critical role, the brain necessitates a continuous supply of oxygen and nutrients. Any oxygen deficiency or direct trauma to the brain may lead to bleeding and the accumulation of fluids, resulting in increased pressure on the brain. Consequently, complications may arise involving the heart, eyes, and various other bodily systems. Symptoms vary based on the cause and severity of the brain injury. Some common symptoms include:

  • Seizures
  • Spontaneous loss of consciousness (syncope)
  • Irregular posture or movements
  • Bleeding from the ears or nose
  • Bleeding within the eye, affecting the retina
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes (cyanosis), indicating dangerously low oxygen levels in the blood
  • Hypoxia, indicating inadequate oxygen reaching body tissues
  • Purplish or bluish patches under the mucous membranes or skin due to ruptured blood vessels (ecchymosis)
  • Red or purple spots on the body caused by minor hemorrhages (petechiation)
  • Heavy or rapid breathing (dyspnea or tachypnea, respectively)
  • Abnormal heart functions, such as unusually slow heart rate (bradycardia)


The following are among the more common causes of brain injuries:

  • Head trauma
  • Severe hypothermia or hyperthermia
  • Abnormally low blood glucose levels (severe hypoglycemia)
  • Prolonged seizures or shock
  • High blood pressure
  • Brain parasites
  • Brain tumors
  • Infections affecting the nervous system
  • Toxicity
  • Immune-mediated diseases


To diagnose your dog’s condition, it’s important to provide your veterinarian with a detailed history of your dog’s health, including when the symptoms started and their nature, as well as any incidents that may have triggered unusual behaviors or complications. Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination, along with tests such as a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count. While the results of these tests depend on the underlying cause of the brain injury, abnormalities in blood glucose levels may be indicated by the biochemistry profile. Blood gases are also measured to confirm oxygen deficiency in the blood.

In cases where skull fractures are suspected, X-rays, CT scans (computed tomography), and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) are highly valuable for assessing the severity of brain trauma. These diagnostic tools also aid in identifying bleeding, fractures, foreign bodies, tumors, and other brain abnormalities. An ECG (electrocardiogram) may be used to assess heart function and rhythm.

Additionally, your veterinarian may collect a cerebrospinal fluid sample to assess inflammation levels and confirm potential infections.


Any form of brain injury should be treated as an emergency requiring immediate hospitalization for intensive care and treatment. Depending on the cause of the brain injury, surgery may be necessary. However, the primary objective of emergency treatment is often to stabilize the dog’s temperature and blood pressure, ensure adequate oxygen levels, and prevent hypoxia.

To aid breathing, a tube will be inserted into the trachea to supply oxygen. Small amounts of fluids may be administered to animals with fluid deficits to maintain blood pressure. Medication will be provided to reduce brain swelling, and the dog’s head will be elevated above the body level. Additionally, the dog will be repositioned every two hours to prevent complications.

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