Recognizing the Signs of a Stroke in Dogs and Cats
Strokes in dogs and cats are not as rare as previously thought.
The good news: fortunately, most pets that have strokes recover with time and proper care.
Frustratingly, there are often no warning signs before a stroke occurs. Your pet may be acting normal just before it occurs, eating, playing, interacting. With my dog, he was just walking around out back when it happened. Then seemingly out of the blue, you may see a:
Older pets may be at higher risk, or those with underlying medical problems such as:
Less commonly it may be caused by the blood supply being clogged by a fragment of a tumor, fat, parasites or spinal cartilage.
Note that when a stroke is being caused by a sudden lack of blood supply to the brain, it is called an Ischaemic stroke.
Rodent poisons are highly dangerous to pets and can cause a Haemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain) and death. This type of stroke can also be caused by the underlying diseases mentioned above, or bleeding from a tumor.
What to Do and Treatment:
If a stroke is suspected, getting your pet to a Vet is a sooner rather than later choice in order to help ensure successful recovery. If the stroke induces a life threatening situation do not wait; find the nearest emergency clinic.
Upon arrival, the exam may consist of test and neurological exams. It is not possible to make to diagnose a stroke using X-rays. Diagnosis of strokes can also be by ruling-out other diseases that could mimic a stroke.
Treatment often involves identification and management of underlying conditions that may have contributed to the stroke. There may also be physical therapy options if it has affected movement; acupuncture may even be an option for the physical therapy required – ask your Vet.
Dedication to care and any medications needed given properly (not missing doses) is not only required for recovery but preventing future strokes if at all possible. You may need to make household changes, such as if it has affected vision - see our article on caring for a blind pet. Or, the dog may now have trouble on stairs and/or wood and tile floors (slicker than carpet) if it affected balance or gait. Options include traction socks for their paws, non skid runners, and gating them from the stairs so they don’t fall when you are not home (something I had to do with mine).
Although there is no specific treatment for a stroke itself, most pets recover within a few weeks. The long-term chances of another stroke depend on what caused the stroke and whether that condition can be treated or medically managed successfully through the Vet and/or care at home.
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University
Davies Veterinary Specialists