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pug with headache

Do Dogs Get Headaches? How Can You Tell if They Do?

We give both ourselves and others the excuse of having a headache, but how about our dogs? Do dogs get headaches? How can you tell?

Just like infants, dogs are terrible patients because they can’t tell you what hurts. So if your dog shows signs of distress, it can be hard to know exactly what is wrong. For example, headaches are one of human’s most common ailments, yet there is seemingly no way of knowing if your dog might possibly have a headache. But the first question is, do dogs get headaches? 

Dogs can get headaches, but getting an actual diagnosis is not so easy. Dogs with headaches will often show similar symptoms to humans with headaches. Veterinarians have prescribed medication for dogs they suspect to suffer from headaches and have documented improvement in symptoms.

We’ll look at the current knowledge surrounding headaches in dogs as well as how to tell if your dog is suffering from a headache. We’ll also look at some treatments for dog headaches so your pup can be back to living a happy, pain-free life.

Can Dogs Get Headaches?

From what we know about dog physiology, as dogs have head and pain receptors, they can definitely feel pain in the same way we do. However, if you’ve spent time with an injured dog, you will be amazed at their ability to deal with severe pain with little complaint. In fact, they will often do their best to hide their pain and any vulnerability, likely an ancestral trait developed for survival purposes.

As they also have similar body systems, such as sinus ducts and blood vessels going to the brain, dogs can feel the whole range of headaches, such as sinus headaches and migraines.

One interesting divergence in evolutionary history has made humans more susceptible to certain types of headaches. The location of the sinuses came about in the common ancestor of mammals (or likely much earlier) when most of these animals were quadrupedal.

This meant that these systems formed around principles of gravity as they apply to a head hanging in a different position than modern bipedal humans. While this allows for much easier, gravity-induced draining of sinuses, this does not happen in humans.

Dogs, therefore, don’t get blocked sinuses anywhere near the level that it occurs in humans, making these types of headaches extremely rare for dogs.

Studies published by practicing veterinarians have observed that symptoms of headaches do occur in dogs. This may be vocalizations, abnormal behaviors like hiding, extreme sound or photosensitivity (aversion to light), and hypersalivation.

Upon treating these dogs with some common headache relief medication, all of these symptoms disappeared or attenuated significantly.

How Do You Tell if Someone Has a Headache?

Diagnostically, there is an issue with animals like dogs as they cannot talk and inform us of their symptoms. Further, tests for detecting pain generally look for damage to body parts or find issues with nerves to infer the cause of pain.

These tests aren’t going to do very well with conditions like headaches which are poorly understood even amongst humans.

Even the most detailed and precise scanning and imaging techniques don’t reveal that a brain suffering from headaches looks different from any other brain. 

Some studies have shown some thinning or smaller areas of pain-related brain sections among headache sufferers, but what this means is unclear.

It is hard to detect headaches or measure subjective pain in a patient like a dog who can’t communicate these concepts directly. Even getting the diagnosis is difficult among humans, as many criteria must be met.

dog with headache

Signs Your Dog May Have a Headache

Several common symptoms may suggest your dog has some issues with headaches. 

It is a particularly quick shift in behavior that should concern you; if your dog usually is happily walking around, exercising, and sitting in the sun, but then suddenly stops this type of activity completely, this could be a sign to look out for headaches.

Audio or Photosensitivity

Some dogs are timid and don’t like certain loud noises or bright lights. But if you notice a pattern of behavior by your dog where they avoid almost all noises or hide to get away from even dim light, this could suggest a headache.

If you notice your dog constantly squints their eyes whenever around a light source and will stay away from the TV or loud conversations, these are also signs you should consider getting a vet’s opinion on your dog.


Vocalization consists of basically any sound a dog makes, be it whining, whimpering, barking, or otherwise making noise.

The issue with vocalization is that the pain could be coming from anywhere, or it may not necessarily be because of pain. Dogs will whine and whimper over many things, such as being hungry or bored.

If you find that your dog doesn’t want to be touched on their head or neck area while vocalizing, this could be a sign of headaches. This is particularly true if your dog normally is fine with such touching.

Isolating Themselves

If your dog is usually happy and playful and gravitates towards hanging around with you and then switches into hiding or being alone, this could be a symptom of headaches. 

Excessive Rubbing or Licking

Dogs will clean themselves with vigorous scratching and licking. This is normal, healthy behavior for dogs and is nothing to worry about. 

Severe headaches may cause a dog to forcefully rub or hit their head on hard surfaces in an attempt to dull the pain.

Headaches can also manifest themselves as panting at strange times, such as when they are not hot, haven’t exercised, or in the middle of the night.

Physical Symptoms

Other common symptoms match humans suffering from a severe headache. You can expect things like fatigue, nasal congestion, eye redness, shaking, downcast attitude or expression, and frequent blinking.

One very common physical symptom is a low head carriage. Headaches may cause dogs to lower their heads and slink around when they move. This generalized fear/pain response posture should definitely be looked into if it persists.

Unfortunately, physical symptoms for headaches have a lot of overlap with many other canine conditions. These can include allergies, high blood pressure, eye problems (very common for certain breeds), or even dehydration or a parasite. 

dog looking pained with headache

Aversion to Smells

Dogs have an incredibly powerful sense of smell, and this of course, involves a dog’s brain significantly. 

Specific smells can seemingly trigger headaches in some dogs, although they tend to be irritating and unpleasant to humans as well, so these are more likely to occur outside the home.

Just as you would recoil and feel some issues from having an ultra-bright light shined in your eyes, a dog can experience even more intense feelings of disorientation from powerful smells.

Food Avoidance

Any significant change to a dog’s eating habits is one of the first signs that a dog is experiencing discomfort. If they refuse to eat meals and can’t be tempted by their favorite treat, this is a common sign of many conditions, including headaches.

Small interruptions or periods when the dog is feeling unwell can also cause food aversion, so it must be weighed against many other alternatives.

But when combined with symptoms like lethargy, moodiness, and complete non-eating, this is a surefire sign that something is not right with your dog, and it’s time to have them checked out by a vet.

Treatments for a Dog Headache

Properly diagnosing what is going on with your dog will need to occur before one can prescribe the correct treatment. Common medications like dog aspirin can help improve blood flow and circulation, which can reduce headaches. But you should definitely speak with your vet before giving any type of pain medication to your dog.

Give your dog some space and prepare a comfortable place for them to rest in a cool, dark area of the house. Try not to touch your dog on any sensitive areas and keep them away from other animals or children who may touch them accidentally. 

Both cold and warm compresses to the neck area can provide relief. But, again, be careful as your dog may not want to be touched if in distress. In addition, dogs in pain can sometimes snap and bite, even if they normally don’t exhibit such behavior.

Final Thoughts

Headaches in dogs remain a mystery to some degree. Experts are reasonably sure that they do get them, but identifying whether they have a headache or not is difficult. Many other illnesses and conditions have similar symptoms. The best we can do is treat the symptoms and hope that it alleviates their pain.

Superb Dog Editor

Superb Dog Editor