You’ve had a rough day. With the sweltering heat, poor air quality, and your seasonal allergies acting up, your head is throbbing. The constant, intense pain, is making it hard to concentrate, let alone get anything done. As you reach for a pain reliever to get rid of this horrible headache, you glance at your four-legged friend. Suddenly, a thought crosses your mind: Can dogs get headaches too?
As dog parents, we all wish our pups could tell us what’s bothering them. Unfortunately, we can’t simply ask them if their head is pounding. But do dogs get headaches in the first place? The answer isn’t clear-cut.
Do Dogs Get Headaches?
It is very likely that dogs experience headaches in similar ways to people, but the research on headaches in dogs is limited, making it hard to provide a definitive answer, according to Dr. Carly Fox, Senior Veterinarian in Emergency Medicine at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in NYC. “It is difficult to determine if dogs experience headaches since a headache is not something you can see or routinely test for — it is only something that can be described,” Dr. Fox explains. “For example, you can’t tell by looking at someone if they are experiencing a headache specifically, and the same would apply to dogs.”
Though research published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine suggested that dogs could suffer from migraines-like episodes. In the study, a five-year-old Cocker spaniel would present symptoms like vocalization, hiding under furniture, carrying her head low, and avoiding any interaction at home “as if she was experiencing pain.”
Despite undergoing many tests (all with normal results) and trying regular pain medication (with no success), the dog continued to act the same way — that is, until vets prescribed Topiramate, a drug used in people to prevent and treat migraines. The migraine-like episodes went from happening several times a month to once every 2-3 months and the pup’s life quality improved.
Serious Conditions Related to Headaches in Dogs
Just as with humans, headaches in dogs could potentially indicate more severe conditions. These could include head trauma, brain tumors, or meningitis.
“Dogs that experience head trauma or traumatic brain injury (TBI) secondary to an accident likely experience headaches due to inflammation, hemorrhage, or increased intracranial pressure,” says Fox. “And brain tumors, not uncommon in older dogs, can also cause changes in behavior and seizure activity. This can lead to headaches in dogs, as they do in people.”
Meningoencephalitis, an inflammation of the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord, could potentially do the same. According to Dr. Fox, as the inflammation of the central nervous system gets worse, it’s very possible that these patients also experience headaches.
Other Conditions That Could Potentially Cause a Headache
In addition to serious conditions, other health issues could potentially trigger headaches in dogs, including sinus infections, dental issues, ear infections, or heatstroke.
“I imagine there are many conditions that can cause headaches in dogs unrelated to a primary neurological disease,” Dr. Fox explains, adding that just like in people, relatively benign conditions, including dehydration, upper respiratory infections, can lead to headaches. “Any condition of the oral cavity, sinuses, and ears likely can cause headaches in our canine patients,” she adds.
Signs Your Dog Might Be Having a Headache
Recognizing a headache in your dog can be challenging, but there are some symptoms might indicate your dog is uncomfortable or in pain. These can include:
- Lethargy or loss of interest in playing
- Sensitivity to light or sound, so your dog might seek out dark, quiet places
- Your dog might eat less than usual or show no interest in their favorite treats.
- Pacing or restlessness, common signs of discomfort
Dr. Fox adds that a dog with a headache might become head-shy due to the discomfort they are experiencing. “A head shy dog typically has a low head carriage and turns away or snaps at you when you go and pet them on their head,” she explains.
Dr. Fox adds that you could potentially see other signs like hiding/retreating, hypersalivation, vomiting, and vocalization if your dog is experiencing a migraine.
When to See a Vet
If your dog consistently shows any of the signs mentioned above, it’s time to visit your veterinarian. This is because these symptoms are general enough that they could also point to other health issues. “Headaches are extremely difficult to diagnose in dogs even by highly trained specialists,” Dr. Fox explains. “If you are concerned your dog may be experiencing a headache, please seek veterinary care so that initial diagnostics and, at a minimum, a physical examination can be performed.”
She adds that this is especially important if your dog has a change in their behavior, has difficulty walking, is pressing his head against a wall, has a seizure, or is shaking for prolonged periods of time with difficulty moving. A number of tests might be needed to rule out serious issues.
In the end, the truth is that it’s unclear whether dogs experience headaches in the same way we do. What we do know is that our furry friends rely on us for their health and happiness. So, let’s ensure they have a tail-wagging good time, free from any possible pains.