Brain injuries have long been a focal point of conversation among medical experts and the general public, whether they occur on the battlefield or the sports field. The incidence of brain damage among pets, especially cats and dogs, is seldom brought up in conversation. Even though brain injuries are usually deadly in people, they may be just as traumatic in our four-legged and two-legged pals.
This article was written by Dr. Daniel Hicks, a veterinary neurologist at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, in celebration of Brain Damage Awareness Month (March) to help pet owners understand the signs and symptoms of a possible brain injury in their canine or feline companion.
“Brain injury occurs when there is damage to brain cells from trauma or brain disease, such as stroke, tumor, or inflammation. Brain damage can also occur from metabolic dysfunction, which is when the metabolism process fails and the body produces too little or too much of the substances it needs to remain healthy,” explained Dr. Hicks. “Traumatic brain injury, however, is specific to injury caused by a force or blow to the head, such as in a car accident or falling from a high height. Severity of symptoms and recovery from injury ultimately depends on the degree of damage.”
Dr. Hicks warns that dogs that sustain a serious brain damage may show no outward signs of illness, but that they may endure a wide range of neurologic abnormalities.
Common symptoms include:
- Reduced consciousness
- A dazed or disoriented appearance
- Paralysis of one or more limbs
- Abnormal or different sized pupils
- Vision deficits or blindness
- Circling, pacing, head pressing or other manic behavior
- Abnormal respiratory patterns, such as heavy or rapid breathing
- Abnormal heart rate or rhythm
Skin sores, bleeding within the eye (ocular hemorrhage), and bleeding from the ears or nose are all possible external manifestations of trauma in a dog or cat with a traumatic brain injury.
Frequent Reasons Why Pets Suffer Brain Injuries
Dogs and cats may suffer brain damage in a variety of ways. Accidental car collisions, assaults by bigger animals (including severe shaking and/or biting), falls from great heights, blunt force trauma, and gunshot wounds all contribute to the prevalence of brain injuries in pets. In addition to these, the following are other frequent reasons for brain injuries:
- Hypothermia or hyperthermia
- Chronic and/or prolonged seizures
- Unusually low blood glucose (hypoglycemia)
- Infections of the nervous system
- Immune-mediated diseases
- High blood pressure
- Brain parasites
- Brain tumors
The Process of Diagnosis and Treatment
A clinical exam, neurological testing, and a review of the pet’s medical history are commonly used together to arrive at a diagnosis of brain damage.
Your pet’s respiratory and cardiovascular systems will be assessed by a veterinary neurologist, who will then stabilize them if required. After the animal has been stabilized, neuroimaging techniques like MRI may be used as part of a thorough neurological examination (MRI).
MRIs may be used on a variety of animals now, from dogs and cats to horses and bald eagles to sheep and even ferrets, all in the name of getting a speedy diagnosis and starting therapy as soon as possible. A CT scan cannot detect cerebral hemorrhage or underlying brain pathology, but an MRI can.
Once the animal’s diagnosis has been established, the doctor may recommend a course of action. Intravenous fluids (to treat shock and stabilize blood pressure), wound care, oxygen therapy, and medicines to reduce swelling, lower intracranial pressure, treat infection, alleviate pain, nausea, and seizures may all be part of the treatment plan.
Pets, fortunately, have a good chance of making full recoveries after suffering brain injuries. Younger animals or those with less serious injuries typically have a fair chance of making a complete recovery, even if dogs may have long-term neurological disorders that may need continual usage of drugs and physical therapy.
“Pets are remarkably resilient to brain injury and many times can overcome even the most severe neurological symptoms,” said Dr. Hicks. “In pets with more severe injuries, who are significantly older or who have multiple pre-existing medical problems, recovery is less certain. Long-lasting symptoms of more severe injury could include altered cognitive function, discoordination of one or more limbs, vision deficits, and seizures. Most of these symptoms, however, can be effectively managed, allowing these pets to live high-quality lives.”
Bring your pet in right away if you saw them get hurt or if you have any reason to believe they may have suffered a brain damage. Dr. Hicks warns that a brain injury may worsen if treatment is delayed or inadequate. The result might be lifelong disability or death.