The brain is a vital organ that requires constant oxygen and nutrition in order to operate well. When it is deprived of oxygen or affected by direct trauma, the brain can suffer injury. There are two main types of brain injuries that pets can experience. Primary brain injuries result from direct trauma to the brain, which can cause bleeding, fluid buildup, and pressure. Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse the effects caused by primary brain injuries. Secondary brain injuries result from primary brain injuries and are the alteration of brain tissue. These types of brain injuries can be prevented, managed and improved with the right care.

When to Call the Vet

Brain injuries can be caused by head trauma, severe hypothermia or hyperthermia, severe hypoglycemia, prolonged seizures, shock, high blood pressure, brain parasites, brain tumors, infections that involve the nervous system, toxicity, immune-mediated diseases, and more. All brain injuries are serious vet emergencies and require immediate attention, diagnosis, and treatment. Any time you suspect your pet may have suffered a brain injury is when you need to see a vet. Some of the signs and symptoms of brain injuries include:

  • Seizure
  • Spontaneous loss of consciousness
  • Abnormal posture
  • Irregular movements
  • Ear or nose bleeds
  • Bleeding inside the eye
  • Bluish skin and mucous membranes due to low blood oxygen levels
  • Purplish or bluish patch under mucous membranes or skin
  • Red or purple spot on the body from minor hemorrhaging
  • Heavy or rapid breathing
  • Abnormal heart functioning

Diagnosis and Treatment of Brain Injuries

In order to properly diagnose and treat a brain injury, your veterinarian will need a complete health history for your pet, as well as information about their symptoms, including what they are, when they began, and any possible incidents that may be responsible for your pet’s condition. With this information, your vet will complete a full physical examination of your pet. They will likely also want to run a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count in order to help the gather full information on the underlying cause and full extent of the brain injury. Where any sort of skull fracture is suspected to exist, your vet will order x-rays, CT scans or MRIs. These can help to ascertain the severity of the brain trauma and whether there is any bleeding, tumors, foreign bodies or other abnormalities.

Whatever the cause for and extent of your pet’s brain injury, your vet is likely to recommend immediate hospitalization so that your pet may undergo immediate treatment. In some cases, such as the presence of fluid build-up in the brain, your pet may require emergency surgery. That said, the primary purpose of this initial treatment will be to stabilize your pet’s temperature and blood pressure and ensure they are receiving adequate oxygen to prevent further secondary brain injury. In cases of severe brain injury, a pet may need to have a tube passed into the trachea in order to supply them with more oxygen. Where a pet is experiencing fluid deficits that can affect their blood pressure levels they may be given small amounts of fluids. Further, to help reduce brain swelling a pet’s head will be kept above the level of their body and their body turned to the other side every so often. They may also be given medication as needed.

Any and all care and treatments administered to a pet with a suspected or confirmed brain injury is delivered with the intention of preventing further injury and helping to make the pet as comfortable as possible. It is understandable that this can be an emotionally trying time for any pet owner, but by ensuring your pet receives immediate veterinary care you can rest assured that they are in good hands.