Do Dogs Get Headaches?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM June 10, 2020
The feeling starts as a slight dullness in the back of your head. Soon it encompasses your entire skull and works its way behind your eyes causing you to squint and wince at every loud noise. Another headache! Headaches seem to stop you in your tracks and any chance at being productive. Your good mood evaporates. At that point, your dog nuzzles your hand. How do they do it? Your dog never seems to be affected by such atrocities or do they?
What Is A Headache?
A headache is exactly what it sounds like - an ache in the head. This ache can occur anywhere in the head and range from sharp pains to a dull aching sensation. You’ve no doubt experienced one, in fact the World Health Organization reports that at least 50% of adults in the world have had one in the past year. They’re one of the most common reasons to miss work, and they don’t discriminate between gender or race.
What Causes Headaches?
Headaches in people are often caused by illnesses, such as a sinus or ear infections, or they can be caused by trauma to the head. Often, headaches are brought on by stress, depression, alcohol, skipping meals or skipping sleep. Headaches can also occur due to strain one the back and neck or even eye strain from too much screen time. Rarely, a headache may be a result of a more serious condition like a brain tumor, meningitis, a brain bleed or blood clot.
Do Dogs Get Headaches?
While we can’t be for sure that dogs get headaches, they do experience similar issues that cause headaches in humans. Since their biology is similar to ours, we can assume that these painful conditions cause headaches in dogs as well.
What Are The Signs That A Dog Has A Headache?
Since your pup can’t outright ask you for some aspirin when they have a headache, you’ll have to be able to recognize the signs on your own. The more obvious signs would be an injury to the head, nasal discharge from a sinus infection, or the rotten breath caused by a bad tooth. Occasionally, you may be able to notice a difference in your dog’s pupil sizes or a drooping of the eyelids.
The not so obvious signs of a dog with a headache include a lowered head posture, pressing their head into firm objects like the floor or wall, or shaking their head. Some dogs with a headache may flinch or tense when you try to pet them or when they have to move their head. They may try to avoid being collared or not want to eat, especially hard kibble. Headaches may cause a pup to squint or rub their eyes and stare off dully into space. They may be listless, not able to get comfortable, and may wander around aimlessly to try to find relief. A dog with a headache may furrow their brow, hold their jaw tight, and may become irritable or jumpy.
What Causes Dogs To Get Headaches?
While dogs probably aren’t getting a lot of screen time, they do experience headaches from similar causes as humans do. The causes of headaches in dogs include the following:
- Dental problems: infected or broken teeth, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues, tumors, and gingivitis.
- Head or neck trauma: getting hit by car, jerking or pulling too hard on a collar, fall
- Illness: sinus or ear infection, allergies, meningitis, encephalitis
- Brain tumor: also brain abscesses.
- Chemicals: carbon monoxide, pesticides or herbicides.
- Scents: Since dogs have more scent receptors than us, some scents can be extremely overbearing.
- Overexertion: irregular or intense physical activity.
- Hormones: intact dogs only
- Stress: moving to a new place, new owner, or new pets in the household.
- Miscellaneous: seizures, malformed blood vessels in neck or brain.
Do Dogs Get Headaches From Barking?
We all know what incessant barking can do to us. It can sometimes give us a massive headache! But does it have the same effect on our dogs? There is really no way to know, except that the dog doing the barking must be unaffected, otherwise they would stop doing it, right? Other dogs within ear shot of that barking may experience headaches as that constant noise can induce stress and elevate blood pressure, similar to what it does to us. We can only assume that dogs are affected by constant barking similarly to how we are affected.
What Are Treatment Options For Headaches In Dogs?
The best treatment for a headache in dogs is to treat the cause. Seems easy, but here’s where the problem comes in. It’s not always easy to determine the cause of your dog’s headache. For chronic or continuous headaches, see your veterinarian for further diagnostics. Some treatment options for headaches include:
- Dental work to address any painful teeth, tartar buildup, tumors, or gingivitis. Dental radiographs can also be useful in diagnosing TMJ issues.
- Treat any wounds, sprains, or strains due to trauma. This may require anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, or pain medications.
- Treat any infections with antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatories and allergies with antihistamines or anti-inflammatories.
- Diagnose and treat any brain tumors or abscesses with antibiotics or chemotherapy and radiation.
- Diagnose any malformations that may be causing issues.
- Cool them down. Let them rest and get them rehydrated.
- Reduction of stress with an environmental change, more exercise or possibly medications.
For headaches where a cause can’t be diagnosed, your vet may choose to treat the problem by prescribing anti-inflammatories or pain medications to be used as needed. For headaches due to neck or spinal issues, animal chiropractic or acupuncture may help relieve tension type headaches. Sometimes a combination of the two is needed.
What Can I Do If My Dog Has A Headache?
For occasional headaches, or when you can’t get your dog to the veterinarian, there are some things you can do to comfort them and help them get through it. Just think about the things that helped your headaches. Try putting your dog in a quiet, dark room where they’re comfortable and let them rest. Try to avoid petting or walking them on a leash. Some dogs may appreciate a cool compress on their head or neck, while others may prefer to be left alone. If you have veterinary prescribed anti-inflammatories or pain medications, administer them as directed. Never give your dog any medications that haven’t been prescribed by a veterinarian. Some human anti-inflammatories, like Tylenol, can be toxic.
Headaches in dogs can be very similar to headaches in humans. If your dog experiences persistent or chronic headaches, you should see your veterinarian to help diagnose the cause behind those headaches in order to get the best treatment possible. For the occasional headache, you can offer your dog the comforts that you would prefer if you had a headache to help them get through it.