Although it might seem odd at first to ask ‘do dogs get headaches’, as it’s not something widely discussed within the veterinary profession, the more you think about it, the more it appears a reasonable question.
This article will look at whether dogs get headaches and if they do, what dog owners can do about it.
Do Dogs Get Headaches?
Short answer: We don’t really know, but probably.
Unfortunately, we can’t just ask a dog if they’re feeling pain. And there aren’t any reliable diagnostic tests for headaches. Therefore, we can’t say with 100 percent certainty that dogs do get headaches.
However, as pointed out by Ella E. Bittel, DVM in the Integrative Veterinary Care Journal, logic dictates that any animal who has a head and can perceive pain would have the capacity to suffer from headaches.
Although vets don’t commonly discuss or diagnose headaches in dogs, there was a case published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine in 2013.
The dog in question, a cocker spaniel, was showing classic signs of pain about once a week for at least 2 to 3 hours and up to 3 days. Their vet started treating them for migraines and, low and behold, these pain symptoms disappeared and the dog could lead a normal life.
This, of course, is pretty substantial evidence that the dog was suffering from migraine headaches. But, how common it is for dogs to get more minor headaches, we don’t know!
How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has A Headache?
Now, here’s the rub. We think it’s fair to assume that dogs do get headaches, from the minor twinge to the serious and prolonged, but how can we tell?
Canines tend to be pretty stoic when it comes to pain. Thus, they won’t necessarily let on that there’s a problem unless something’s really causing them discomfort.
As mentioned above, no clinical test can be done to find out if your dog has a headache, but there are some signs and symptoms that you can look out for.
- Increased sensitivity to light and sound; a desire to escape to dark and/or quiet places.
- Unusual aversion to touch, especially in the head and neck area.
- Rubbing or hitting the head against furniture and other objects.
- Changes in temperament, such as irritability or seeking more attention than usual.
- Wanting to be alone.
- Whining without any apparent reason.
- Squinting the eyes, furrowing the brow, or otherwise appearing as though light hurts their eyes.
- Refusing food.
- Excessive panting or drooling at times you wouldn’t expect these reactions.
- Regularly lowering or shaking the head.
- Resting or pressing the head on a cool place.
What Causes Headaches In Dogs?
Because nobody knows much about headaches in dogs, and we have no definitive way of telling that dogs even do suffer from headaches (although they almost certainly do on occasion), we can only really speculate about what causes them.
Possible causes include:
- Neck or head trauma.
- Sinus congestion or allergies.
- Stress, including loss or a human or animal friend and change.
- High blood pressure.
- Exposure to chemicals in the home or out on walks.
- Tumors, malformed blood vessels, inflammation in the brain.
- Dental problems.
- Incorrect use of leash or training aids, for instance jerking on a dog’s leash.
What Can You Do If Your Dog Has A Headache?
If you suspect your dog has a headache, you might be wondering what to do.
Nobody likes to see their pup in pain, but if this is the first time you’ve noticed symptoms that might indicate a headache, and the pain seems mild to moderate and isn’t causing evident and immediate distress, it’s probably best to wait it out and see what happens.
After all, much like headaches in humans, most doggie headaches are likely to be benign. However, unlike humans, dogs can’t tolerate all painkillers well, including many NSAIDs. This means you should never give your dog any pain relief designed for humans, without first consulting your vet.
If you notice your dog having headache-like symptoms often, they seem to be in a lot of pain, and/or they’re visibly distressed, you should check in with your vet as soon as possible.
The same kinds of symptoms that could signify a headache could also be indicators of a range of other medical problems. Or, if your dog really is having headaches, these could be caused by a more serious underlying issue.
If you go to the vet and they can’t find anything wrong with your four-legged friend, you can try other things. Some dog owners recommend massage or alternative treatments such as acupuncture. Although you can massage your dog yourself, if aiming to treat a particular issue, it should be carried out by a trained professional. As should, of course, acupuncture!
Another recommendation for dealing with headaches is the Tellington TTouch method. You can use this to help determine if the headaches are caused by an emotional or physical issue.
But, as mentioned above, these alternative methods should only be attempted once your pup has been given the all-clear from their vet.
Although it’s not something widely accepted or diagnosed by veterinary professionals, it’s really only common sense that dogs should be able to suffer from headaches. That said, we don’t know how common minor headaches are, as we can only really assume a dog has a headache when it’s severe enough for them to show signs of pain.
A one-off headache in a dog isn’t necessarily anything to worry about. However, if it’s a chronic issue, you should have your dog checked out by a vet as there could be a serious underlying cause.
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