When Dogs Have Strokes

A head tilt, circling, loss of balance, and odd eye movements are some symptoms of a stroke in dogs. Do not put off taking your dog to the vet for an evaluation and treatment if you suspect that they are experiencing a stroke. The majority of treatment is supportive, but it’s also critical to address any underlying issues.

What should you do if your dog suffers a stroke?

Like their owners, dogs are susceptible to a variety of urgent medical disorders, such as strokes. Although canine strokes are less common than human strokes, they are nevertheless very serious. It might be frightening to see your cherished dog suffer a stroke, so it’s crucial to know what to do in this situation.

What is a Stroke?

The National Stroke Association claims that a stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, depriving brain cells of oxygen. This frequently takes place abruptly and without warning. Depending on which area of the dog’s brain is harmed, the severity of the harm and its effects vary.

Strokes are commonly categorized as either ischemic or hemorrhagic in both humans and canines. ” According to Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian who sits on Pet Life Today’s advisory board, an ischemic stroke happens when a blood vessel that delivers blood to a portion of the brain is clogged, resulting in damage to the brain tissue. She continues, “In a hemorrhagic stroke, a brain vessel bleeds, causing swelling and increased pressure. The brain is deprived of blood and oxygen in both forms of stroke, which results in the death of brain cells. In both humans and dogs, ischemic strokes are more frequent than hemorrhagic strokes.

The length of time the brain is without blood supply determines the stroke’s severity. A dog who suffers a big, catastrophic stroke in a specific area of the brain may not recover, according to Dr. John McCue, a staff neurologist at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. This is because critical areas of the brain have been harmed. This may lead to a lower quality of life and could be fatal in rare cases. The good news is that a stroke does not always result in irreversible damage. The long-term prognosis for dogs who receive prompt treatment and the necessary supportive care is favorable.

Fibrocartilagenous Embolism (FCE), more frequently referred to as a “spinal stroke,” can also occur in dogs. This happens when a fragment of an intervertebral disc—the cushion between each canine vertebra—breaks off and obstructs one of the spinal cord’s blood arteries.

According to where in the spinal cord a spinal stroke occurs, spinal strokes frequently result in partial or total paralysis of one or more limbs, says Dr. Gary Richter, owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, California. He also emphasizes that not all strokes receive a firm diagnosis. He claims that in most cases, a clear diagnosis requires an MRI, which not all pet owners can afford. There are likely many’mini’ strokes that go undiagnosed.

Signs of a Stroke

Stroke symptoms can be imperceptible and mild. A dog can go from appearing normal to seriously disabled very fast, according to Dr. Coates, and there are no symptoms that a stroke is likely to occur. The issue might quickly get worse if it goes unchecked. The danger of lasting brain damage increases the longer therapy is delayed.

Typical indications that your dog may be experiencing a stroke include:

  • loss of equilibrium
  • Head incline
  • when called, pacing, circling, or turning the opposite way
  • abnormal facial gestures or eye motions
  • distorted vision
  • loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness and collapse
  • immediate limb weakness and/or paralysis

It is crucial to remember that other illnesses might also create comparable symptoms. Particularly in elderly dogs, Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome might resemble the symptoms of a stroke. Dogs’ inner ear and brain have a delicate array of structures called the vestibular system, which aids in maintaining balance and coordinating the position of the head, eyes, and legs.

What Causes a Stroke?

Dr. McCue claims that elderly dogs are more prone to ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes than younger dogs. Larger, more athletic breeds are more likely to suffer from spinal strokes.

Additionally, dogs who simultaneously have other health issues are more likely to experience strokes. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) states that dogs who additionally suffer from conditions like heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are more likely to experience a stroke. The past health of your dog may offer some hints, but roughly 50% of canine strokes have no known underlying cause.

Unfortunately, there is no way to stop your dog from having a stroke, but keeping your pet healthy can reduce the likelihood of one occuring. Because early detection and treatment of underlying disorders can lower your dog’s risk of having a stroke, routine veterinary exams are particularly crucial.

What Should I Do If My Dog Has a Stroke?

Consult a veterinarian right away if you think your dog may have experienced a stroke. According to AAHA, if your dog has dark red mucous membranes in areas like his gums or inner eyelids, this may suggest a lack of oxygenation. If this happens, prompt medical attention is necessary to get the blood flowing normally again. Dr. Richter also suggests that you keep your dog quiet and avoid letting him fall or bump his head, as this could result in damage.

It is essential to correctly diagnose a stroke in order to guarantee that your dog receives the right care. To rule out other underlying issues, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination and can suggest additional testing like blood work, urine, or X-rays. Your veterinarian could advise a comprehensive cardiac workup, which may involve exams like an ECG, chest X-rays, or cardiac ultrasound, because heart problems and stroke are frequently associated. An MRI or CAT scan may be advised to rule out other brain illnesses that can generate similar clinical indications in order to conclusively diagnose a stroke.

Will My Dog Recover?

The type of stroke, its severity, any underlying medical concerns, and how soon your dog receives the right treatment are all factors that affect how well your dog will recover from a stroke. While other dogs might require more time, some canines will start to show indications of healing in just a few weeks. Unfortunately, some canine stroke victims never fully recover, and in some situations, the stroke or its side effects might be deadly. But according to Dr. Coates, “many dogs can continue to live happily for quite a long time after having a stroke with the right veterinary care and a committed owner.

Emergency First Aid for Dogs

A sudden injury or illness cannot always be prevented, even by the most diligent pet owner. Receiving emergency medical care for your pet could mean the difference between life and death. To find out more about what to do in an emergency, download this e-book.

Can my dog or cat have a stroke?

Strokes can happen to cats and dogs, but they seem to happen less frequently than they do to humans. Since animals can’t communicate with humans when they feel dizzy, lose vision in one eye, or have memory issues, pet owners sometimes fail to discover signs of a minor stroke in their companions. Unfortunately, strokes in pets tend to be more severe than in people and necessitate prompt veterinarian care.

What is a stroke?

When a blood vessel narrows or becomes clogged, blood and oxygen can no longer reach the brain, which results in the death of brain cells. Dogs will display a variety of neurological symptoms depending on the extent of the damage and the afflicted brain area.

What causes strokes in dogs?

Blood clots are the main factor in most strokes, however parasites, germs, and tumor cells can also contribute. The tissue around the blood vessel can perish as a result of this substance becoming trapped in a blood artery and obstructing blood and oxygen flow. Other conditions can cause blood vessels to burst and bleed into the brain, including trauma, illness, or clotting issues.

Can clots lodge in blood vessels outside the brain?

Yes. Any area of the body can have blood clots that restrict blood arteries. A blood clot that lodges in the aorta, the body’s main artery, just before it splits to supply blood to the back legs, is the common and dramatic ailment in cats known as feline aortic thromboembolism, or a “saddle thrombus,” which results in the cat’s sudden and excruciating paralysis.

It is challenging to determine the precise cause of strokes in dogs and cats since they don’t consume the most prevalent risk factors for many human stroke victims—greasy foods, smoking, and alcohol consumption. A underlying illness is frequently to blame. Dogs and cats with the following conditions have a higher risk of having a stroke:

  • Cushing’s syndrome (hyperadrenocorticism)
  • Hypertension
  • Heart condition (especially in cats)
  • disorders of bleeding
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cancer

Although no particular breed has been associated with a higher incidence of strokes, breeds predisposed to the conditions mentioned above may experience higher rates of stroke. Your pet’s danger can be ascertained with the assistance of your veterinarian.

What are the signs my pet might be having a stroke?

Cats who develop a saddle thrombus commonly exhibit dramatic symptoms, such as:

  • In anguish, howling or meowing
  • drags one or both of the back legs
  • On one front leg, stumbling

The symptoms of a stroke in your dog frequently occur abruptly but can vary greatly depending on which part of the brain is affected. You might observe:

  • a cocked head
  • Having trouble walking
  • reduction in housetraining
  • alteration in personality
  • less awareness of the environment
  • abnormal eye position or movement
  • falling to one side or listing
  • Blindness
  • Seizures

What should I do if I think my pet has had a stroke or saddle thrombus?

Contact your veterinarian right away if your cat or dog exhibits any symptoms that might point to a stroke. It is crucial to diagnose and cure problems quickly. Syncope, a fainting spell that is likewise caused by a loss of regular blood supply to the brain and is frequently brought on by heart disease, is sometimes confused with strokes. To distinguish between the two diagnoses of syncope and stroke, your veterinarian may recommend chest X-rays, an EKG, or a cardiac ultrasound in addition to performing a cardiac evaluation to identify whether your pet’s episode is caused by syncope or a stroke.

Your dog’s veterinarian will examine her brain function if her heart is in good condition and may then refer your dog to a specialist for an MRI or CT scan to look for any bleeding or blockages in the brain. It is frequently advised to conduct additional testing, including as bloodwork, hormone-level testing, urinalysis, and a blood-pressure assessment, to identify the underlying reason of the improper blood flow to the brain.

Cats with feline aortic thromboembolism need strong treatment that is intensive. In addition to having painful and immobile back legs, they frequently have heart failure. For ongoing monitoring, your veterinarian could advise moving to an environment akin to an intensive care unit (ICU).

Your veterinarian will create a treatment strategy to reduce the symptoms after determining the stroke’s underlying cause. Blood thinners to dissolve a clot, hormone therapy for hypothyroidism, or blood-pressure medications to treat hypertension may all be prescribed for your pet.

The symptoms frequently get better as your pet’s body tries to get the damaged area’s blood flow back to normal. Your pet will need supportive care to recover from a stroke, including assistance with walking, peeing, and defecating as well as pain medication, oxygen and hydration treatment, nutritional management, and physical therapy.

It takes time to heal. To give your pet the best chance for a full recovery after a stroke, you must give supportive care. Trust the AAHA-accredited veterinary staff to assist with your pet’s recovery.

How do you identify a stroke in your dog?

You probably know someone who has experienced a stroke and have witnessed the drastically altering effects it can have. You might be shocked to find that dogs can get strokes if you are a pet parent.

According to Dr. Brett Levitzke, medical director of the Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group in Brooklyn, New York, strokes are being diagnosed more frequently as a result of the greater accessibility of MRI and CT scans for pets. Being an informed pet owner means you’ll be aware of the causes, signs, and remedies for canine strokes.

A stroke is defined as a decrease of blood flow to portions of the brain that results in neurologic abnormalities, according to Dr. Virginia Sinnott of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Angell Medical Center.

Dogs can experience two different types of strokes: ischemic strokes, which are caused by blood clots, tumor cells, platelet clumps, bacteria, and parasites; and hemorrhagic strokes, which are brought on by blood vessel rupture or clotting abnormalities.

What a Stroke Looks Like in a Dog

Although animals certainly do not have memory loss or slurred speech, symptoms of stroke in animals can be similar to those in humans, according to Dr. Levitzke. Symptoms also vary depending on where in the brain the stroke occurred.

“Even in humans, these symptoms can be subtle, and since animals are unable to communicate their symptoms to us verbally, such as “I feel dizzy” or “I can no longer see out of my left eye,” subtle genuine strokes may go unreported in them, according to Dr. Sinnott.

She claims that big strokes are more frequently seen in dogs, and pet parents may confuse syncope (fainting spells) with strokes. “According to Dr. Sinnott, both are quite dangerous and need to be treated right once by a veterinarian.

Canine stroke symptoms can include:

  • inability to walk or clumsy gait when walking
  • abnormal eye motions, either rotational or side to side (nystagmus)
  • unnatural eye position (strabismus)
  • consciousness loss
  • abnormal conduct
  • stumbling to the side
  • quickly developing symptoms

“Typically, owners report that their pets are OK one minute and then they are unable to stand up the next. According to Dr. Sinnott, these symptoms could linger for a short while or considerably longer (hours to days).

Causes of Strokes in Dogs

Dr. Sinnott claims that only a few cases of canine strokes are seen by veterinarians each year, and when they do happen, they mainly affect extremely old dogs with illnesses that raise the risk of blood clots or bleeding.

Dr. Sinnott explains that in cases of strokes in extremely old dogs, the symptoms “may be alarming and may be associated with discomfort for the dog, and some owners prefer to euthanize their pets.

Kidney illness, Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism), hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, bleeding problems, hypothyroidism, cancer, and in some circumstances, taking excessive dosages of steroids like prednisone can result in stroke in dogs. While no one breed is more likely to experience a stroke than another, Dr. Levitzke notes that some breeds, including King Charles Cavalier Spaniels, which have a high incidence of heart disease, may be susceptible to strokes.

Treatment Begins with Diagnosis

The most crucial aspect of treating dog strokes is accurate diagnosis. An irregular cardiac rhythm, which can be fatal, might trigger a fainting spell that might resemble a stroke. Your dog’s heart functions can help your veterinarian rule out a cardiac issue and distinguish between a stroke and a fainting spell. According to Dr. Sinnott, tests might include an electrocardiogram (ECG), chest X-rays, and sometimes a heart ultrasound.

The brain will be scanned with a CAT scan or an MRI if the heart is healthy. Additionally, she explains, your veterinarian might perform other tests including hormone testing, blood work, and urinalysis to check for underlying diseases that could result in blood clots.

According to Dr. Levitzke, treatment will try to address the issue after the source has been identified. Blood thinners may be needed if a clot caused the stroke, and high blood pressure drugs may be necessary if the stroke was brought on by hypertension.

“As the patient’s body restores blood supply to the afflicted area and the swelling goes down, the neurologic symptoms of a stroke are permitted to go away on their own. According to Dr. Levitzke, medications like steroids, mannitol, and hypertonic saline can reduce brain swelling.

Healing requires controlling pee and feces, eating healthfully, and receiving simple physical treatment (massage, passive range of motion of the limbs, if required, etc.). “Dr. Levitzke claims that while recuperation can take some time, the brain is very good at it.

Can Strokes in Dogs be Prevented?

Strokes cannot be stopped by themselves. However, routine veterinary checkups and screening blood tests can uncover probable causes that can be addressed given that they are linked to underlying disease processes, according to Dr. Levitzke.