Do Dogs Get Headaches? Signs and Symptoms

lab looks sad laying down

Dogs are a lot like us. Many of the conditions that affect people can also affect dogs. Your dog can get a headache just like any other family member. In many cases, dog headaches are even caused by the same things that cause headaches in people.

If your pet-parent senses tell you that your dog might have a headache, this guide will help you understand what you should do. Spotting the potential cause of a headache can help you get your dog feeling better and prevent headaches in the future. 

What Causes Headaches in Dogs?

Anything that affects the blood vessels in your dog’s head or face can cause a headache. It’s rarely a sign that something is amiss with your dog’s brain. In most cases, headaches have a cause that’s easy to remedy with proper veterinary care or changing your dog’s routine. 

Dental Health Issues

When was the last time you brushed your dog’s teeth? Most pet parents don’t know they need to brush regularly. Your dog’s teeth are just as important as your teeth. 

Dogs use their mouths for eating, grooming themselves, and playing. They’re constantly introducing all kinds of bacteria into their mouth, where the bacteria can grow, thrive, and replicate if left to do so. 

You should be brushing your dog’s teeth at least once a day. If you don’t, they will likely develop cavities, oral infections, and dental abscesses. 

These conditions can be dangerous or even fatal if they aren’t addressed quickly. An infected tooth can cause infection throughout your dog’s entire body.

Headache and mouth pain are usually the first indicators that something’s up with your dog’s dental health. Get to the vet and have your dog’s teeth and gums checked out. Follow the vet’s instructions if your dog needs dental surgery or antibiotics. Most importantly, start brushing your dog’s teeth regularly.

Sinus Issues

Sinus infections and nasal congestion cause pressure, inflammation, and swelling within your dog’s sinuses, causing a sinus headache. This type of congestion can sometimes happen when your dog is allergic to something. It can also occur if your dog has an infection, either with a virus or a bacteria.

Since sinus issues often impact your dog’s ability to breathe, it’s essential to see the vet. You shouldn’t wait it out to see if the issues go away on their own. 

If it’s an upper respiratory infection, it’s important to act quickly. Upper respiratory infections can be contagious to other dogs in your home. If left untreated, they can progress to pneumonia. Your dog may need antibiotics right away.

Ear Infections

Ear infections are common in many dog breeds, with basset hounds, golden retrievers, and beagles among the most susceptible. Many things can cause an ear infection. 

Bacteria or yeast can overgrow in your dog’s ear. Tumors, mites, injuries, and objects lodged in your dog’s ear can also cause ear infections. 

If you have a breed more likely to develop an ear infection, it’s extremely important to check and groom your dog’s ears regularly. If you think your dog has a headache, look in their ears for redness, swelling, discharge, mites, or excessive ear wax. You’ll usually be able to tell if something is wrong and go to the vet after taking a quick peek. 

Allergies

Dogs can get seasonal allergies just like other members of your family. They can also experience allergic reactions to just about anything. 

The plants in your yard, the food you feed your dog, the laundry detergent you use to wash their bedding, and your home fragrance products are all potential allergens. If you think your dog has allergies, speak with your vet. 

Your vet will recommend that you stop using fragranced detergents and things like essential oils around your house. You’ll need to check your yard for plants your dog may be able to access. If new weeds have sprung up or you’ve planted a garden, it might be time to remove some plants.

If food is the potential source of the allergy, your vet will work with you to start your dog on an elimination diet. Over a few weeks, you will remove ingredients from food and treats in your dog’s diet. 

You’ll monitor your dog’s symptoms as you go. When the symptoms go away after removing a certain food, you’ll have a better idea of the allergen. 

ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA chews for dogs can also help provide support by helping to provide temporary relief for skin irritation and helping to modulate the inflammatory response. Consult with your vet about incorporating CBD + CBDA soft gels, oil, or chews into your pup’s routine for extra support all year round. 

Getting Too Hot

Dogs love to run around and play outside all year. You probably don’t have much to worry about during spring and fall. In the winter, you should ensure your dog isn’t freezing out in the cold. In the summer, you must take precautions so your dog doesn’t overheat and become dehydrated.

Heat and dehydration can make your dog’s head throb, but the headache is only a small part of the issue. Your dog can get heat stroke from prolonged heat exposure. 

Make sure your dog has a cool, covered place to go outside if temperatures rise. Installing a fan and putting a water dish on your covered back porch will make summer a little more hospitable. Your dog can easily determine when they need to cool off. 

If your dog is currently overheated, offer your dog room-temperature water. You can place your dog in a bath to cool off. Don’t put your dog in cold water because cold water will constrict blood vessels, which can worsen the headache and throttle their circulation.

Injuries to Your Dog’s Head

Injuries to your dog’s head or neck can cause a headache. This is a different kind of headache because its source is typically the muscles and local inflammation in the area. 

Injuries need to be brought to a vet’s attention right away. Your dog can’t tell you exactly what happened or describe what they are feeling. 

The vet needs to do a few imaging tests to see what’s beneath the surface. It could require emergency intervention, but you won’t know until your vet gets the X-rays back. Don’t wait around and take your chances.

Brain Tumors or Lesions

Brain tumors or lesions in dogs can cause headaches through various mechanisms. Although dogs cannot explicitly communicate their pain and discomfort, certain symptoms may indicate the presence of a headache or increased intracranial pressure. 

Here’s how brain tumors or lesions can contribute to headaches in dogs:

  1. Increased Intracranial Pressure: Tumors or lesions take up space within the brain, leading to increased pressure within the cranial cavity. This increased pressure can cause headaches or a sensation of pressure within the head.
  2. Inflammation and Tissue Compression: Brain tumors or lesions can cause inflammation and compression of surrounding brain tissues. This compression can disrupt normal brain function and nerve signaling, leading to pain and headaches.
  3. Disruption of Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Flow: Brain tumors or lesions can obstruct or interfere with the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which circulates around the brain and spinal cord. This disruption can contribute to increased intracranial pressure and subsequent headache-like symptoms.

It’s important to note that dogs may not exhibit classic headache symptoms, as they cannot communicate their pain explicitly. Instead, they may display signs of discomfort, changes in behavior, altered coordination, seizures, or other neurological abnormalities.

If a brain tumor or lesion is suspected, a veterinarian will perform a thorough examination, potentially including diagnostic imaging (such as MRI or CT scans) to evaluate the brain’s structure and identify any abnormalities. 

Treatment options will depend on the specific diagnosis and may involve surgical intervention, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or palliative care, depending on the tumor type and its location. Always consult with a veterinarian if you suspect your dog may be experiencing any neurological symptoms or if you have concerns about their health.

How Can You Tell if Your Dog Has a Headache?

Think about how you feel when you have a headache. Your dog will react in many of the same ways you do, making it easy for most pet parents to understand the problem. 

Aversion to Light and Sound

Headaches can cause sensitivity to bright lights and sounds. If your dog is trying to hide in a dark, quiet place, this is their way of trying to escape the stimulation that’s making them feel worse. 

If your dog doesn’t have a dark, quiet place to hide, they might burrow themselves under their blankets or into their bed to create a makeshift shelter. 

Low Energy or Sleepiness

It’s normal for dogs to enjoy their naps, but it’s equally normal for them to get up and play. Dogs need a lot of exercise, and their instincts inspire them to get up and go. 

If your dog has no interest in playing or going outside, something may be wrong. Your pup could be attempting to sleep through the discomfort, or they may feel too drained to do anything.

No Interest in Food

Dogs with headaches often experience a loss of appetite, especially if dry kibble is a major part of their diet. Chewing on something crunchy is especially unpleasant with a throbbing head.

It’s even more unpleasant when a dental infection or ear infection is the cause of your dog’s headache. If your dog rejects their favorite treat, it’s usually a sign something is very wrong. 

Showing Signs of General Anxiety or Discomfort

Dogs attempt to communicate with their human family members through gestures. Whining, pacing, panting, and head tilts could be your dog’s way of saying, “My head hurts, and I need your help.” 

This may be your dog’s way of asking you to intervene. Body language is the key to communication when your pup doesn’t feel well.

Can Dogs Take Headache Medicine?

Typical headache solutions like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) usually work well for human headaches, but they won’t have the same effect on your dog. These medications affect your dog’s body much differently. 

They can be highly toxic, even in tiny amounts. You should never give your dog your over-the-counter pain medication. 

If your dog’s headache is coming from an injury that will cause prolonged pain or discomfort, your vet will prescribe specific pain medications safe for dogs to take. You’ll get directions on how much and how often to give pain medication to your dog. In most cases, dogs only need to take pain medication for a few days. 

What Should You Do When Your Dog Has a Headache?

It’s hard to diagnose your dog with a headache, even if it seems like they have one. If you can spot the cause of the headache, you can take appropriate steps to resolve the issue.

Call the Vet First

Call your vet and explain the situation. If it’s after hours, call your nearest emergency vet. 

They’ll tell you if the situation can wait or if you should bring your dog in immediately. Always take their advice. If the underlying cause is something serious, it needs immediate attention.

Get to the Root of the Problem

If you know what caused the headache, take steps to resolve the situation. If you switched your dog’s food recently, change it back to the food they ate before. 

If you think something in your backyard is causing the allergy, walk your dog elsewhere. If your dog’s oral hygiene concerns you, get a pet-safe toothpaste and mouth rinse. 

Prepare a Soothing Space

Your dog needs a cool, quiet room without light or sounds. Even a little stimulation can be too much when your dog has a headache. Turn on the fan, close the blinds, and make everyone keep the volume low for the rest of the day. Your dog needs to rest.

Give Your Dog Wet Food and Water

Your dog needs to continue eating and drinking normally. Make sure they have fresh water. Wet dog food may be easier for them to eat when they have a headache. 

It’s normal for your dog to be disinterested in food until their headache disappears. If their disinterest lasts longer than a day, consult the vet.

Cuddle Your Dog

When your dog doesn’t feel good, they may turn to you for comfort. Make yourself available. Gentle cuddles, hugs, kisses, and affirmations in a soft, soothing voice might make your dog feel more comfortable. Let them lean on you while they need you.

If your dog is more of the independent type who enjoys their space when they’re uncomfortable, do the opposite. Respect your dog’s boundaries and check on them every hour to monitor their condition, but make an effort to minimize the amount of disturbance you’re causing.

Yes, Dogs Do Get Headaches

If it seems like your dog has a headache, they probably do have a headache. The reasons they have a headache and the appropriate course of action will always vary. At ElleVet, we believe you should always follow the vet’s advice.

If your dog regularly gets headaches, you may need to commit to significant lifestyle changes for your dog’s continued wellness. Be ready to do what you must to keep your dog happy and healthy. 

Sources:

Pet Dental Health: Fact or Fiction? | Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Bacterial Pneumonia and Bronchopneumonia in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital.

Dog Ear Infections: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention | American Kennel Club

Pathophysiology of heatstroke in dogs – revisited | NIH

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