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Do Dogs Get Headaches? (How to Tell and What to Do)

Dog with headache resting on bed

Do dogs get headaches? This may seem like an odd question, but we encourage you to take a few minutes to really think about it. Unlike humans, dogs aren’t able to tell you when something hurts, and this makes getting a definitive answer more complex for researchers and veterinarians alike.

We wanted to know the answer to this question, so we dove deep into research to try and find an answer. We’re going to share our findings, possible symptoms, diagnosis, causes and treatment options before the end of this piece.

Understanding if Dogs Get Headaches

Unfortunately, there isn’t a black and white answer with this question because the research is relatively new compared to other ailments your dog could get. While we tend to lead toward saying that your dog most likely experienced headaches, more research is needed to make a definitive yes or no.

Your dog’s brain acts like an informant to the rest of their body, exactly like a human’s brain does. When the veins, blood vessels, nerves, and muscles all constrict, it sends a pain signal that results in a headache. It stands to reason that since your dog has the same basic makeup as humans do, they too can experience headache-like pain.

Why Do Researchers Dispute the Existence of Headaches in Dogs?

The scientific community seems to be divided on whether or not dogs experience headaches for several reasons. One of the main reasons that it’s difficult to tell when your dog has a headache is because it’s so difficult to get a diagnosis.

Additionally, veterinarians can’t evaluate dogs like they can humans because dogs lack the ability to tell you if anything specific is wrong. For example, doctors will ask the following to diagnose a headache in a human, but they can’t ask dogs:

  • Where the pain is (front, back, side, or all-encompassing)
  • How long they’ve had the pain
  • If there are any specific sensations (tingling, throbbing, or numbness)
  • Are there are accompanying symptoms (nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to sound)

How to Tell if Your Dog Has a Headache

Since there currently is no clinical test to definitely tell you if your dog has a headache or not, it’s going to require a lot of watching them on your part. The common signs and symptoms that your dog has a headache includes but is not limited to:

  • Changes in their temperament. They may seem to want more attention or be more irritable.
  • Excessive drooling or panting at times when they haven’t done things to warrant it.
  • Increased sensitivity to sound or light. Your dog may seek a dark and quiet space to sleep.
  • Refusing to eat.
  • Regularly shaking or lowering their head
  • Resting their head on something cool
  • Rubbing or bumping their head against walls or furniture
  • Squinting their eyes or acting like the light hurts their eyes
  • Unusually aversion to getting petted or touched on the neck and head area
  • Wanted to be alone and away from everyone
  • Whining without having an apparent reason to be upset

Since there is such an extensive list, it may be a good idea to start keeping a small journal with dates and times of when you notice these symptoms in your dog as well as for how long they last. This will help you take your findings to your veterinarian if you want to get a concrete diagnosis.

Potential Headache Causes in Dogs

There are several potential causes of headaches in dogs, but there still isn’t a lot of research to prove it. However, several probable causes of dog headaches include but are not limited to:

  • Dental Problems – If your dog gets an infection because they have poor dental health, the resulting infection can cause a headache to form. Plaque build up, inflamed gums, missing teeth, rotted teeth, and abscesses are all common.
  • Chemical Exposure – Dogs are much more sensitive to smells than humans are, and they’re more likely to react to exposure to chemicals. The scent can potentially cause a headache to form.
  • High Blood Pressure – Just like humans, dogs can experience high blood pressure if they’re overweight. A common symptom that comes when your blood pressure climbs too high is headaches.
  • Incorrect Use of Training Aids – Jerking or pulling on your dog’s leash or collar can cause their heads and necks to jerk with it. This sudden movement can cause minor trauma that results in a headache.
  • Sinus Congestion or Allergies – When you have sinus issues or allergies, you can get pressure that just builds and builds until you get a headache. Dogs can experience allergies too, and you can get medications to help control it.
  • Stress – If your dog doesn’t react will to change, or if they’re simply a nervous breed to begin with, stress can bring on a headache. Stress makes your blood pressure levels rise as well.
  • Trauma to the Head or Neck – Maybe your dog experienced head or neck trauma and seems like they’re in pain. A headache could show up hours or even weeks after the initial trauma happened.
  • Tumors – If your dog has a tumor that is starting to push on areas of their brain or spinal cord, they could experience increasingly severe headaches. These headaches could get worse until you treat the tumor.

Diagnosing and Treating Headaches in Dogs

Only your veterinarian can properly diagnose headaches in your dog, and you should schedule an appointment if you have concerns. Once you get a diagnosis, there are several treatment options you can try for your dog to alleviate their pain.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is popular for dogs who have inflammation in their joints or chronic pain disorders. Acupuncture works by inserting tiny needles in the pressure points of the body to release any tension. It focuses on aligning your dog’s energy so their bodies can heal themselves.

Avoid Touching Their Head or Neck

If your dog’s head or neck is sore, you want to avoid petting or touching the area, so you don’t make it hurt more. Let your dog come to you and lay down. You can pet them on their lower back or on their stomach if you think they need it.

Compresses

Applying hot or cold compresses to your dog’s head and neck can help to encourage good blood flow and reduce any restriction they may have. You should do this slowly and see if your dog will tolerate it or not because some dogs won’t like it. You should only apply them for a few minutes at a time.

Create a Quiet Space

The first thing you can do is to create a cool and dark space for your dog to retreat to when they want. This could be anything from a kennel, under a bed, or even in a darker room that’s away from the higher areas of traffic in your home. Make sure that your dog can get to it whenever they need.

Medications

Your veterinarian may prescribe medications to help with your dog’s pain levels from their headaches. Make sure that you only give them the dosage that your veterinarian recommends. They could give you prescription medication, or they could recommend that they take aspirin.

Bottom Line

Do dogs get headaches? Now you know that there is a very good possibility that they do. You also know signs, treatment options, and why there isn’t a concrete yes or no answer to this question.