Did my dog have a stroke?

It’s rare when the words “stroke” and “scary” don’t appear in the same sentence. That’s why it’s important for dog owners to know the symptoms of a dog stroke and how to move forward with treatment.

A sudden loss of balance and a head tilt are just some of the signs, but strokes take scary one step further by mimicking other health issues, such as kidney failure and more.

Your veterinarian is your best resource for determining whether your dog has had a stroke and can help put you both on the path to recovery. Read on for answers to common questions about stroke symptoms, causes and more.

What is a stroke?

You’ve heard the word a thousand times but it’s helpful to understand exactly what is happening in your dog’s body when a stroke occurs. A stroke is “a sudden death of brain cells in a localized area due to a lack of blood flow”. Most frequently, a blood clot is to blame. But a stroke can also occur if a piece of fat, cartilage or bacteria breaks loose in another part of the body and circulates to the dog’s brain.

What are common symptoms of a stroke in dogs?

  • Loss of balance
  • Head tilting
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

Not all of the above need to present; in fact, if your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, you should contact your vet straight away.

All these things together means your dog has definitely suffered from a stroke. Your dog’s “eyes might flicker quickly from side to side, kind of like watching a tennis match”. These symptoms have to persist for more than 24 hours for your pet’s condition to be technically classified as a stroke, but you shouldn’t wait that long to visit the vet if you have any suspicions. The faster you see a vet, the better for Fido.

What can make diagnosis tricky is that symptoms of a stroke can mimic those of other health issues, such as vertigo, kidney failure, an inner ear infection, a brain tumor or a seizure. The professionals will need to rule out these issues by performing a series of tests, possibly an MRI.

What causes a stroke?

In about 50 percent of cases dogs that have strokes will have an underlying or concurrent condition.

These conditions can include systemic diseases: Cushing’s disease, hyperlipidemia, chronic kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus or hypothyroidism to name a few of the most common. There are many cases for which we are unable to find a reason for the event and we can call these cases cryptogenic infarcts.

How do you treat a stroke?

You may be surprised to learn that there is no specific treatment for dogs who have strokes – the most important plan is time to heal.

Vets do recommend some diagnostics looking for causes of a stroke, followed by treatment of these underlying conditions. In some cases a medication might be recommended to help prevent clots from forming in the future.

Is recovery possible following a stroke?

For the highest chance of recovery take your dog to the vet immediately if you suspect a stroke.

One of the most important things to do is start intravenous fluids right away. These fluids will help your dog’s brain maintain oxygen and vital nutrients and will work to flush out any waste products from the area.

A stroke patient will need all the love and care their owner can give them following the initial event.

Stroke patients may require intensive supportive care to help them regain the ability to eat and drink, walk and have normal bathroom habits. Dogs can recover from strokes. Some dogs worsen over the initial 24-72 hours and then you begin to see signs of recovery. Some will have residual deficits but still have a good quality of life.

How common are strokes in dogs?

There is a lack of studies showing how common strokes are in dogs, but it’s clear they are more common than previously thought.

Dogs that are middle-aged to elderly are most likely to suffer from a stroke. And, take note purebred-lovers out there, two kinds of dogs – Cavalier King Charles spaniels and greyhounds – are more susceptible to strokes because of blood-related issues common in their lineages.

Can you prevent dogs from having strokes?

There is no way to prevent strokes or predict if one is going to happen, but if your dog should suffer from a stroke, the prognosis is not as bleak as you might think. While some dogs have lasting neurological damage, most recover.