By hannah hollinger
Published: 07/07/2017, edited: 08/11/2021
More articles by hannah hollinger
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If you’ve ever suffered from headaches, you know that the symptoms can leave you bed-ridden and possibly even nauseous. Anyone who suffers from headaches may, from time-to-time, wonder if their pet companions suffer from them as well. Perhaps you’ve witnessed your pet exhibiting signs of head pain, causing you to ask: Can dogs get headaches?
Although there are few studies confirming that dogs get headaches just like us, many veterinarians agree that they are possible. To understand how and why our dogs may get headaches, we must first understand how and why they occur in us.
The brain acts as an informer of pain to the body. When the nerves, blood vessels, and muscles that cover our skull and neck swell or constrict, pain in the head is induced. Because dogs have the same basic make-up of nerves and blood vessels, they, too, experience headaches.
The reason why headaches are disputable among the veterinary community is because it’s difficult to diagnose them in dogs, as they don’t have the ability to speak or directly communicate where their pain is derived, how long it lasts, or its specific sensation (all questions doctors ask human patients in order to properly diagnose headaches).
While the existence of canine headaches is up for debate between some veterinarians, many may conclude that there’s no reason dogs don’t experience temporary or chronic head pain. Some point to the fact that dogs have more powerful olfactory receptors (sense of smell) than humans, with strong, irritating scents being a key cause of canine headaches.
There are a few ways to tell if your dog is having a headache, even though they may not display their discomfort in the same way we do.
Veterinarians agree that during headaches, dogs will feel:
Additionally, a dog with a headache may show these signs:
Avoidance of being touched on or around the head
Disinterest in food
Possible avoidance of sunlight, disinterest in going outside
Anxious activity, such as pacing or constant licking
Keeping the head low to the ground
Frequent napping or rest
Dogs' headaches can be caused by the same things as humans, such as:
Cold or flu
Excessive activity (too much or vigorous movement of the head)
Headaches don’t often require a diagnosis or prognosis, as they tend to subside relatively quickly and easily. However, if you believe your dog is suffering from chronic headaches or migraines, a trip to the veterinarian will be beneficial to both you and your pet.
To diagnose headaches, some veterinarians may only need a physical examination. Pupil dilation, straying away from any approaching hands, and eye-straining under brightness could all be signs of a headache.
In severe cases, you may request an MRI, which could reveal headaches as a result of something even more serious, such as a brain tumor. The most common cause of headaches in dogs, however, is allergies.
Headaches as a result of allergies can be avoided by seeing that your pet undergoes an allergy test with a veterinarian. The test will reveal everything the dog may be allergic to and allow for the both of you to avoid it.
During a headache episode, there are a few things you can do to keep your pooch calm and not agitate the pain, such as:
Create a quiet, cool, dark resting place for your dog to rest
Avoid petting, especially on the head
Grant your dog distance and ensure a lack of disturbances by keeping other pets or children in the household away
Administer proper dosage of aspirin for dogs as per a vet's prescription
Gently-applied hot or cold compresses on the neck or back
Headaches typically subside in as little as 30 minutes to an hour, but can last longer, especially if consistently agitated with noise, light, or loud sounds.
The biggest commonality between headaches in dogs and humans are the symptoms as well as causes. Both canines and humans will show these signs:
Squinting in bright lights
Desire to be in a quiet, cool, and dark space
Both dogs and humans will get a headache as a result of:
Excessive movement of the head
Being exposed to the heat of the sun for a long period of time
Stress or anxiety
The main difference between headaches occurring in dogs and humans is how we express our discomfort. Our furry friends, due to their inability to communicate, may express pain in ways we consider odd, such as:
Rubbing their heads on the ground or on furniture
Hiding under couches, beds, or other hard to reach places
Disinterest in eating or drinking from dog bowls (as it requires them to bend their head downward, increasing pain)
Imagine your pet spends the day outside at a dog park, running and playing in the hot sun. After a few hours, you and your four-legged companion pack up the frisbee and leash and head home for some dinner. Once home, however, your dog runs and hides in a dark, uninhabited room of the house.
Perturbed by this odd behavior, you follow your pet, calling after them. When you get closer, reaching your hand out to pet and attempt to comfort them, they shy away. In this scenario, you could conclude that your dog may be suffering a headache as a result of activity in the hot sun while being potentially exposed to allergens common in the spring.
If your dog is at risk of developing headaches, check out our pet insurance comparison tool. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like FIGO and Nationwide.
Curious about which health plan is right for your dog? Head over to our breakdown of the best pet insurance plans.
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