Part two of two: First Aid for head injuries in your pup

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So last week we covered symptoms and physical exam findings of head trauma. If you didn’t get to read last week’s post click here to do so.

We discussed that if you witness your dog bump his head… how do you know if you actually need to worry about head trauma and high tail it to a vet? We discussed that playing it safe is best, but if you are in BFE and no symptoms are noted you might be able to safely monitor closely.

This week we cover the more severe symptoms of head trauma and what you need to do from a first aid standpoint if symptoms are noted.

Now let’s say your pup has a bump to the head that has a bit more impact or force and you notice he seems dazed, or god forbid loses consciousness for a moment or longer afterwards. A severe head injury will usually present with the following symptoms that you need to look for.

The symptoms to look for are lethargy, dullness, vomiting, inappetence, unsteady walking or gait, nose bleeds, uneven pupil sizes, pupils that are not constricting and dilating, inability to blink, blindness, collapse, non-responsiveness, and even seizures.

Obviously, the later symptoms indicate the most severe head trauma cases. And you should seek veterinary care as soon as possible if any of the above symptoms are noted. This is regardless of your perceived severity of the impact.

With head trauma we can have brain swelling. Swelling can range from very mild to very severe. It can progress rapidly and the sooner he can be evaluated and treated by a veterinarian the better. Your vet may just want to monitor your pup for a period of time, or if the symptoms and physical exam findings are severe enough, he may give medications to potentially reduce the swelling in the brain. It should also be noted that breathing difficulties can develop with head trauma, and dogs with a history of head trauma may be predisposed to seizures that can develop at any time.

So now you might be wondering… what can you do in the meantime while you are seeking veterinary care?


  • Remove your dog’s collar and during this entire process, and take great care to put little to no pressure on the underside of your dog’s neck. Your dog’s jugular veins run here, and we do not what any added pressure applied to them.
  • While carrying out stabilize your dog to the best of your ability – ideally carry them on something flat but if that is not possible- carry them out in the least stressful manner possible while supporting the head and neck. If possible, elevate his head at a 30-degree angle.
  • If the hike out or transport to veterinary care is extended cover your dog with a blanket and monitor temperature (as long as it does not delay your evacuation). Begin active warming if your dog’s temp falls below the normal range- 101.5 +/- 1-degree Fahrenheit
  • If your dog is conscious during this process and begins retching or vomiting take great care to gently re position him during evacuation so that he does not aspirate the vomit. Try keeping his head and neck in a neutral position and allow him to naturally lower his head momentarily so he does not breath in the vomit that is being expelled.
  • Without delay during evacuation monitor for shocky like symptoms such as pale gums, racing or super low heart rate, and bounding or very weak pulses.
  • Try to execute the entire process in the calmest, least stressful way as possible, as we want to keep your dog’s blood pressure stable and avoid it from jumping too high.



In the field we are unfortunately limited with what we can do for severe head trauma. But one thing you can do is focus on getting him out in the calmest, safest way possible.

Symptoms can change and develop quickly so be sure to monitor your dog closely as you hike him out. And because symptoms can develop quickly, again, another reminder to error on the side of caution. If you are on the fence it is probably best to begin seeking veterinary care.


Action items for this week: have you considered an evacuation plan for your dog should he get hurt? I challenge you to come up with a plan A, B, and C to start. Plan A can be “allowing my dog to hike himself out in the least stressful manner, if he is able.” An example to get your wheels turning and get you thinking. What does your plan B and C look like?


If you have any questions about head trauma or questions about trauma in general never hesitate to reach out to me! Also, I would love to hear your plans to hike your dog out, if something should go awry- So shoot me an email with your plans A, B, and C and we can chat about them.

I know it isn’t fun to think about, but if you brainstorm now it’s much easier to have clarity in an emergency situation.

Until next week,

Libbie Fort, DVM


P.S. Don’t forget to sign up and join our membership waitlist! Enrollment is currently closed, but don’t miss our relaunch in October! And be the first to know when we reopen the doors! Click here to get on the waitlist.



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