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Brain Injury Awareness Applies to Pets Too

Posted by SusanStokes on March 30, 2018

We spent a lot of time in the past helping to raise funds to unite a service dog with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) survivor which had a very positive outcome. But just like humans, our pets can sustain trauma to the head resulting in traumatic brain injury, too. Head trauma is a medical emergency and can have far reaching health effects for pets. So now we want to raise your awareness of how pets can suffer brain injury and what to expect if this happens to your dog or cat.

Our pets can suffer injuries to the brain in several ways:

  • Hit by a car
  • Attacked and bitten around the head by a larger animal
  • Shaken by a larger animal (or even a cruel human!)
  • Falling a distance to the ground with a resulting blow to the head
  • A gunshot wound
  • Blunt force trauma of some sort
  • Cats may suffer a TBI as a result of severe hyperthermia or hypothermia and prolonged seizures.

If your pet suffers a trauma to the head, consider this a medical emergency and make sure your pet is seen by a veterinarian immediately for the best possible outcome. Treatment of a brain injury will depend on what led to the brain injury, and only a veterinarian can make a medical determination by stabilizing the pet and additional testing.

Remember, the brain is a vital organ to the body and requires a constant supply of oxygen and nutrition. Any deficiency of oxygen or direct trauma to the brain may result in bleeding and fluid buildup which can cause excessive pressure on the brain. This in turn can cause complications involving the heart, eye, and several other body systems. Symptoms vary and depend on the cause and severity of the brain injury. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Abnormal posture or irregular movements
  • Ear or nose bleed
  • Bleeding inside the eye (involving the retina)
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes (cyanosis); a sign that oxygen in the blood is dangerously diminished
  • Insufficient oxygen reaching body tissues
  • Purplish or bluish patch under the mucous membranes) or under the skin due to ruptured blood vessels
  • Red or purple spot on the body caused by a minor hemorrhage
  • Heavy or rapid breathing

Expect admission to the animal hospital for close monitoring and intensive care. In patients with severe or worsening neurological symptoms, referral to a neurologist and further treatment will be recommended. Some patients require surgery, and the veterinarian may collect cerebrospinal fluid sample to determine the level of inflammation and to confirm possible infections.

If and when your pet is released back home, please follow your veterinarian's instructions carefully regarding activity, medication and nutritional requirements. Regular follow-up exams with your veterinarian will be necessary to evaluate the neurologic functions of the pet. Frequent laboratory testing may also be required to monitor the pet’s overall health. Each case will be different, so again follow the attending veterinarian’s advice for the best outcome.

March has been deemed Brain Injury Awareness Month by the Brain Injury Association of America. Let's extend this awareness to our beloved pets as well. You never know when accident or injury may strike, and it's good to be prepared with knowledge.

Susan, Taurus and Gemini


Recommended Reading:

Pet First Aid and CPR Course - You can do this!

Service Dog United with Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor