There is a lot of speculation about whether dogs get headaches or not. We can’t ask a dog if his head hurts. But, as one vet observes, “[C]ommon sense suggests that any creature with a head and pain perception also has the basic capacity to suffer from headaches.”
Since we don’t know for sure if or when a dog has a headache, we have to rely on symptoms. A dog with a headache might have some of the following symptoms:
- Your dog might seek out a dark, quiet place if a headache is making him sensitive to light or sound;
- Your normally affectionate dog doesn’t want you to touch his head or neck;
- Your dog may rub his head against the furniture or your body as though looking for some pain relief;
- Your dog may uncharacteristically avoid people;
- Your dog may uncharacteristically shy away from loud noises like the television or radio;
- Your dog refuses to play and wants to be alone;
- Your dog may appear to squint his eyes or act like light hurts his eyes;
- Your dog may look like he has an uncharacteristically furrowed brow;
- Your dog may look for a cool play to rest his head;
- Your dog may not be interested in eating or may lay his head down while eating.
Many of these symptoms can also be symptoms of more serious illnesses, which makes a headache in a dog hard to ascertain. You probably don’t want to take your dog to the vet if he has a minor headache that will disappear in a couple of hours. On the other hand, if your dog has some of these symptoms on a regular basis, you will want to have a vet examine your dog to find out if there is a serious health problem.
We really have no idea how often dogs get headaches or if they are common in dogs. Dogs, in general, are very stoic about pain and don’t show signs that they feel pain unless it is very noticeable. It seems possible that dogs can get migraines, sinus headaches, and other kinds of headaches that humans get, but they don’t complain about them nearly as much. The case of a dog that apparently had migraines is particularly interesting and has been written up in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. This dog, a Cocker Spaniel, was hypersalivating, vocalizing, hiding, and behaving with fear for 2-4 hours at a time, for up to three days. The behavior had started out happening about twice a year, beginning when the dog was five months, and escalated to monthly. Her tests were all normal. When the vets tried treating her for migraines, she began to improve. Her owners manage her treatment now with the correct medication and she is enjoying a good quality of life.
If you have a dog who shows symptoms of having ongoing headaches, you should talk to your vet. Do not try to treat your dog yourself and do not give your dog NSAIDs without talking to your vet. Some NSAIDs are very dangerous for dogs.