Is It Bad Hitting Your Dog In The Head?
There’s no other way to put it.
Whenever you have to utter the words, “I accidentally hit my dog in the head!”, it’s not exactly ideal. But hey, at least it was an accident! Hopefully, that means that the blow was more glancing than hard.
And it probably won’t be the last time your pooch gets clocked in the head by accident, whether that’s by an errant tennis ball or an over-enthusiastic canine friend.
(Remember, it’s never ok to hit your dog intentionally as a way of discipline or instruction… but you already knew that.)
There’s no doubt that you’re feeling pretty terribly about what happened.
However, though head trauma in dogs is no joking matter, it’s reassuring to know that dogs do have thicker skulls than us humans which protect them quite well from a myriad of bumps and knocks.
So, don’t worry too much!
Unless the force was undeniably hard and there are some clear signs of discomfort and pain, the thump most likely just bounced off your best friend’s noggin with him being no worse for wear.
However, if your dog does display visible symptoms of head or brain trauma such as bleeding, loss of consciousness, shakiness, vomiting, confusion, or uneven pupils, take it to the vet immediately.
In the case that your dog has suffered a concussion or other head injury, it will need to be monitored and treated quickly by a trained professional. Not doing so can lead to long-term damage- or even death.
So, What Happens When A Dog Gets Hit In The Head?
Nature’s pretty smart.
It knows that dogs- despite being blessed with phenomenal athleticism, speed, dexterity, and jumping ability– tend to run head first into many things without so much as a second thought.
As such, puppies’ skulls have been designed in a way to protect them from all but the hardest bumps and falls.
While every puppy starts off with open fontanelles (areas of the skull which are not connected and leave the brain exposed), these rapidly become fused with fibrous tissues at the suture lines.
Usually by as early as 2 to 3 months into a dog’s life, its skull will already have completely calcified into bone. At the very latest, fontanelles will be fully closed by 6 months of age.
In this way, their thick and hard skulls are capable of protecting puppies and dogs from damaging their brain when they bump into something hard with their head.
The only exceptions to this are certain tiny dog breeds, such as Malteses and Chihuahuas, that have a permanent open fontanelle even in adulthood. If you are an owner of a toy breed, this is something that your vet has probably alerted you to already during previous checkups.
As you may have gathered, it is therefore very difficult for a dog or puppy to do serious damage to its brain through physical trauma. However, superficial damage such as bruises or cuts to the skin can still occur.
For example, sufficient or repeated impact to an area on the head can cause short-term surface contusion or muscle soreness to take place– though even in these cases there would be very little danger of long-term harm.
Depending on where in the head the dog was hit- on the nose, for instance- it is also possible for some bleeding to occur. Blunt force to the front of the head can cause damage to the nasal cavity, causing a minor hemorrhage.
Regardless, minor physical impact should only have very slight neurological effects on a dog. It may be a bit more subdued and quieter directly after being struck, but this is usually due to simple discomfort.
It is quite common to see a pup bounce back after a few minutes (or even straight away) after being hit in the head with considerable force, and be back to its normal playful self!
What Can You Do To Help Your Dog Recover?
Even if there is little to no danger of significant damage to the head or brain, your poor pooch may still be a little sore on the spot where it was hit.
If there appears to be a bit of redness or bruising, it can be very soothing to use an ice pack or cold compress on the area throughout the day for periods of up to 10 minutes at a time. This will help to reduce the swelling and allow your dog to feel more comfortable.
If your dog’s skin has been broken and is bleeding, you will need to do the following:
- Stem the flow of blood by applying pressure or using styptic powder,
- Clean and disinfect the wound area, and
- Put a breathable bandage over the cut to protect it from hair and bacteria.
Take a look at our Guide HERE on what you should do if you have accidentally cut your dog in any way!
If your dog is neither bruised or bleeding, then it is likely in the clear! You won’t have to do anything in particular to help it recover, though if you are still worried it never hurts to keep a closer eye on him for the day.
Can Hitting A Dog In The Head Cause Brain Damage? How Do I Know If My Dog Has A Head Injury?
As we’ve already learnt in the previous section, dogs have incredibly thick skulls as well as generous muscle mass (read: padding) on their heads. The combination of these factors helps to prevent most instances of serious head trauma.
However, head injuries can still happen, and when they do they are just as dangerous in dogs as they are in human beings. Some of the most common causes of head injuries in dogs include car accidents, falls from high elevation, and rough play with doggy peers.
If the accidental hit on your dog’s head was quite strong, you will want to check that your dog is ok physically and neurologically.
You can do this by checking for a few of the different signs of head injury, such as:
- Blood on the head, or around the eyes and nose
- Uneven pupils or a dazed gaze
- Difficulty with balancing and walking
- Loss of consciousness and difficulty waking up
Alternatively, here is a simple 5-item checklist of questions you can ask yourself to determine the likelihood of brain trauma in a dog that has been hit on the head:
- Did the dog lose complete consciousness for any period of time?
- Does it still have a normal appetite for both food and water?
- Dogs often become nauseous if they are suffering from head trauma- has it experienced any vomiting episodes?
- How do the dog’s pupils look? Are they focused, evenly-sized, and do they constrict when shone with a torch/light?
- Do the gums appear pink (normal), or are they pale and grey?
The general rule of thumb is that for brain damage in canines to occur, there has to be some instance of loss of consciousness. Barring that, the dog will most likely be A-OK!
If your dog’s status and behavior warrants any concern at all (such as unusual sleepiness or grogginess in the hours following), it would be a good idea to take it to the vet straight away for a thorough examination.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry, as cranial swelling caused by head trauma can lead to coma- and even death– if left untreated.
What Are The Different Types Of Head Injuries?
There are a few different types of injuries that can occur as a result of trauma to the head, skull, and brain:
A concussion is the most common type of injury which can occur due to physical head trauma. It is characterized as the brain being subject to violent impact against the skull, resulting in possible short or long-term damage.
A contusion as it relates to head injuries is where there is a direct and focused impact on the head, causing bruising and bleeding on the surface of the brain. It is commonly seen in conjunction with coup-contrecoup injuries.
A coup-contrecoup injury is where a significant impact on one side of the head causes a contusion at the direct area of impact, as well as on the opposite side of the brain where it hits the skull.
Diffuse Axonal injuries are characterized by nerve tissues being torn due to powerful rotating or shaking forces. Tearing of nerve tissue means that the damage is diffused across many different regions of the brain. This can result in prolonged, serious, life-threatening harm.
How Do You Know If Your Dog Has A Concussion? The Procedure To Follow: From Home, To The Vet’s Office
When your dog gets a very hard knock to the head, there is a fairly high chance that it can go into shock due to the pain and fear.
It is extremely important to keep an eye out for any signs of shock, as it can be a life-threatening condition when it derives from head trauma. Some of the common signs of shock can include:
- Shivering or convulsions
- Rapid breathing
- Irregular or rapid (but weak) pulse
- Pale, grey, or blue gums
- Decreased body temperature
- Lethargy or frantic behavior.
Pre-Treatment At Home
To treat a conscious dog that is in shock, it is recommended to firstly keep it as calm and warm as possible. This can be achieved by covering or wrapping it in a blanket or towel.
If the dog is unconscious, care must be taken to make sure that its breathing isn’t obstructed in any way. Check inside the mouth to ensure that the dog’s tongue is as far forward as possible so that the airway is kept open.
If the dog isn’t breathing- or if its heart has stopped- you will need to perform CPR on it immediately. Take a look at the video below to see the correct way to perform canine CPR:
If the dog’s head is bleeding due to the strike, apply direct pressure to the wound to stem the flow of blood. Head wounds tend to bleed profusely, so a significant amount of force may be necessary to stop the bleeding.
Once the hemorrhage has been slowed, a water or saline-soaked compress can also be very helpful to clean the wound and protect it from possible infection during the subsequent trip to the vet.
Once your dog is as comfortable as possible, transport it as quickly and as smoothly as you can to the nearest vet. Since it is a head injury, keep the dog’s head elevated in relation to its feet in order to reduce intracranial pressure as much as possible.
At The Vet’s Office
Once you arrive at the vet clinic with your poor, banged-up pup, supportive measures will likely be implemented straight away in order to help it on its road to recovery.
These can include the administration of IV fluids to ward off dehydration, as well as the provision of anti-inflammatory medication to lessen pain and swelling.
Once the supportive processes are in place, the dog will then be monitored and examined closely to establish whether there are any indications of brain swelling or damage like those discussed in the above section.
In order to do this, the dog may need to undergo MRI or CAT scans to assess the damage clearly. If swelling is indeed detected, corticosteroids and diuretics may be utilized to provide much-needed relief.
In some cases, neurological tests will also be carried out in order to check for any decrease in mental acuity and sharpness.
Once the damage has been accurately diagnosed, a suitable treatment plan will be formulated so that the dog has the best chances of a full recovery.
Some dogs may only need supportive care, pain medication, or a few rounds of antibiotics to heal properly, while others will have to deal with long-term damage and issues such as seizures and convulsions.
The best thing to do at this point is to work closely with your vet and other specialists (such as neurologists) to establish the best long-term plan possible for your beloved pet.
Do Dogs Forgive You When You Accidentally Hurt Them?
Dogs don’t forgive, per se.
However, that’s only because they have no real understanding of what it is to forgive!
Forgiveness is as human a virtue as there is, and the concept simply does not apply or exist in a dog’s rendering of the world.
Dogs, like most every other animal, live completely in the present. This means that they move on almost immediately from any isolated events that they may encounter in their day-to-day existence, without attaching any additional meaning onto them.
Canines simply do not have the emotional capacity to hold grudges, sulk- and on the opposite side of the spectrum, forgive.
When something that happens is accidental and not repeated, dogs will certainly show an emotional response in the moment (cowering, hiding, yelping), but will almost instantly forget about it once they are aware that the moment has passed.
Therefore, as long as the strike was accidental and you express it as such to your pup, it will understand that there was no malicious intention behind the action. In these cases, the pooch will soon forget that it was ever hit and be as happy-go-lucky as ever!
It is theoretically possible that a dog may learn to be afraid of its owner after just one accidental hit (for example, if it was hit extremely hard and had a very traumatic experience); however, these situations are exceedingly rare.
I don’t know about you, but in my perpetual clumsiness I often walk into (or accidentally even step on the feet of) my 3 dogs! I fuss at and apologize to them profusely whenever I do, and they always look at me brightly as if to say, “It’s OK.” :’)
Will My Dog Forgive Me For Hitting Him?
Though dogs typically do not comprehend the idea of forgiveness at all, they are masters when it comes to observing and learning bodily cues and intent through repetition.
Pavlov proved this in his classical conditioning experiments, where he demonstrated that dogs could be influenced and trained to connect two closely related events.
Canines can be conditioned effectively through repetition, so if being struck is a regular occurrence they will quickly learn the appropriate reaction to the action- as well as the ways in which to avoid it as much as possible.
Regularly being struck will therefore also result in increasingly irreversible psychological damage and subsequent loss of trust. The poor pooch will learn to be afraid based on the pattern of body language, tone of voice, and emotional state that their owner is displaying.
Again, dogs are extremely adept at reading the intent of their human owners. If your intent was to punish your dog by hitting it, it will learn to be scared of you based on the way you move and speak.
If, however, you accidentally bump into pup, it will in most cases know that there was no hostile intention involved, and will ‘forgive’ you by moving on from the event by forgetting that it ever happened!
How Do I Say Sorry To My Dog?
Even though we’ve now learnt that dogs don’t hold grudges and don’t require their owners to beg for forgiveness, if you’re anything like me you still want to make it up to your pup when you’ve accidentally hurt them in some way.
So, how do you say sorry to your dog?
Truthfully, there’s not much you need to do to let your dog know that you are sorry.
After all, what’s important to your pet is the intention behind your actions- and if it was clear that there was no malevolent intent, it will simply want to move on and keep loving you as before. (Awww…)
With that said, it never hurts to reinforce the lack of ill-natured intention towards your pooch by making a big fuss about the accidental strike and giving it a big cuddle.
You can even throw in a treat or two after the pup has calmed down. This will help to ensure that your pet understands whatever happened previously was indeed purely accidental on your part.
In the end, dogs are extremely intelligent- yet uncomplicated- creatures. Even when the occasional bad or painful event occurs, they won’t typically become conditioned to it as long as the surrounding interactions are all pleasant.
And while they may not be as complex as human beings, canines respond to love and affection in a strikingly similar way.
As an emotional and social pack animal by nature, a dog’s default tendency is to provide unconditional love and loyalty unless given a reason not to otherwise. As such: Be thankful for your pup, and treat it the best that you can!
Heather Abraham is a professional blogger who owns two dogs, a cat, a parrot, and a leopard gecko. She has a connection with animals since she was a child. She shares her love for all pet breeds and provides information on pet food, toys, medications, beds, and everything else.
She is committed to learning about the internal workings of animals. Her work permits her to work closely with knowledgeable vets and obtain practical expertise in animal care. When she is not working, her love of animals continues in her writing. Her goal is to educate and uplift readers who also have a passion for animals through her writing.