(Editor’s note: Brain injury isn’t always a just a human issue; it can affect our beloved pets, too. Writer Isaac Peterson shares some valuable information on how to protect our pets and their health. KT)
At the time I earned my very own brand new traumatic brain injury (TBI), I didn’t know anything about traumatic brain injury, so mostly what I’ve written about here has been about what I’ve since learned and my own personal experience.
I’ve only hoped that somewhere along the way I could write about things that might help other people navigate through life with their own brain injuries.
Then the other morning it hit me out of the blue: how about animals? They have brains and nervous systems, so why couldn’t animals have traumatic brain injuries as well?
I thought about those longhorn sheep butting heads like you see in the nature documentaries–how would anybody even tell if they get TBIs? I mean, they hit each other hard enough to kill humans so they must get brain injuries.
Do woodpeckers get TBIs? Who knows.
Well then, how about animals more in line with an individual’s every day experience, like their pets?
Specifically, can cats and dogs experience traumatic brain injuries?
It turns out they can. But they really can’t tell us, so how would we know? After all, a lot of human TBIs go undiagnosed for years, if ever.
Now, thanks to my newfangled internet machine, maybe I can fill in some blanks. Here’s some of what I learned about cats and dogs. The information is mostly from PetMD and is only a general overview.
First, it turns out that dogs and cats have a lot of things in common that can give them a TBI. Here’s a list of some of those causes:
- Head trauma–an indirect impact can cause a TBI in your pet, just as how whiplash in humans can cause a TBI. Even if your pet is in a pet carrier during an auto accident, you will want to check it for TBI.
- High blood pressure.
- Brain parasites.
- Brain tumors.
- High temperatures; for example, leaving your pet in the car on a hot day can be a cause.
- Very low temperatures; you may want to have your cat or dog come inside when the temperature drops below freezing.
- Immunity-related disorders.
- Accidents; if your dog or cat is scurrying across a waxed floor and slides into a wall or other object, you will want to have it checked out, preferably before you post the video on Youtube.
Dogs and cats can show all kinds of symptoms when they have a TBI (these are common causes of traumatic brain injury, but there can be other causes; just like traumatic brain injuries in humans, no two pet TBIs are the same):
- Syncopes (losing consciousness for no apparent reason).
- Sudden irregular posture or irregular movements.
- Bleeding from the nose or ears.
- Bleeding inside the eye.
- Bluish coloring of the skin (due to injured blood vessels).
- Heavy or rapid breathing.
If you notice any of these symptoms, get your pet to a veterinarian and give your vet as thorough a history of your pet’s health history and make sure you explain the differences in your pet that cause you concern. Give the vet as much information as possible to help diagnose your pet’s problem (I assume you would do this anyway).
Treatment include the following:
- If the vet suspects a skull fracture, your pet may need X-rays or an MRI to verify it or rule it out and/or evaluate the severity of the fracture
- Your pet may need an electroencephalogram (EEG).
- A vet may collect cerebrospinal fluid, if infections are suspected.
Once you get your pet home, follow your vet’s advice, and make sure you give your pet lots of tender loving care; after all, animals are some of the best people, and I am sure you treat your pet as part of the family.
Dogs and cats can be service or comfort animals—while your pet is recovering you can let it know how it feels to have a comfort human.
Isaac Peterson grew up on an Air Force base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, he embarked on a career as an award-winning investigative journalist and as a semi-professional musician in the Twin Cities, the place he called home on and off for 35 years. He also doesn’t mind it at all if someone offers to pick up his restaurant tab. Peterson also welcomes reader comments. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.