Recent research has revealed that strokes in dogs is much more common than previously thought. As veterinary medicine advances, and specialized tests become more widely available; we are better able to diagnose symptoms and understand the causes of strokes in animals.
Although the idea of your dog suffering a stroke may be alarming, strokes in dogs are often not as debilitating as they are for humans. With proper veterinary attention and appropriate care at home, your beloved pet may recover well.
What is a dog stroke?
A stroke is known in medical terms as a ‘cerebrovascular accident’ and is caused by a reduced supply of blood reaching the brain. There are two types of stroke:
- Ischaemic stroke: This is caused by a sudden lack of blood supply to the brain
- Haemorrhagic stroke: Bleeding within the brain, which is caused by a burst blood vessel
What are the causes of strokes in dogs?
The brain of a dog, or a human, relies heavily on a constant supply of oxygen rich blood to operate. When ischemic strokes occur, the blood supply to the brain fails, severely disrupting brain function. Hemorrhage strokes can see entire areas of the brain destroyed when the blood supply to the region is cut off by a burst blood vessel.
It is widely accepted that ischemic strokes are often the result of underlying diseases such as; kidney disease, heart disease, under or over-active thyroid glands, Cushing’s disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Hemorrhagic strokes are usually seen in digs that have diseases that interfere with blood clotting.
Signs of stroke in dogs: How do I know if my dog has had a stroke?
The signs of strokes in dogs are often very different from those seen in humans. In a human stroke; it is common for people to suffer from paralysis on one side of their face or body, but these are rarely associated with strokes in dogs. More common signs include:
- Head tilt
- Loss of balance
- Loss of vision
- Turning in circles
- Falling over
However, these signs are not exclusive symptoms of strokes and can be associated with other brain diseases, such as tumors. Another similar condition to a stroke which commonly strikes dogs is vestibular disease.
Vestibular disease usually affects older dogs, but younger dogs have been known to suffer from it too. It affects the inner ear and is such responsible for the characteristic stroke like symptom; loss of balance. Other symptoms of vestibular disease are:
- Head tilt
- Heavy panting
- Nystagmus – eyes darting from one side to the other
- Nausea and vomiting
- Inability to eat and drink
How can I diagnose my dog for possible stroke?
Your vet may suspect that your pet has suffered a stroke from the signs your pet is showing. In order to make a definite diagnosis your vet will need to do some further tests including imaging your pet’s brain.
It is not possible to make this diagnosis using standard X-rays, so a vet will need to take a picture of the inside of the brain using a specialist scan such as a CT scan (computed tomotgraphy), or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
These tests require your pet to be put under anesthetic, so that they can keep still during the examination. Your vet is likely to take this opportunity to withdraw a sample of spinal fluid, through a spinal tap procedure. This fluid is then used to check for other potential diseases that could cause similar symptoms.
Diagnosis of strokes in dogs are based on the identifying changes in the brain, and by ruling out other diseases that could mimic a stroke. Despite thorough investigations, an underlying cause is not found in more than half of dogs with strokes.
Will my dog make a full recovery after a stroke?
Once a stroke has occurred there is no specific treatment that can repair the damage done to the brain. Efforts should be concentrated on identifying a potential cause for the stroke and, if a cause is found, treating it to prevent further strokes. Good nursing care is essential for recovery.
Although there is no specific treatment for strokes in dogs, most pets tend to recover within just a few weeks. However, a complete and full recovery may not be possible if the stroke has affected a vital part of the brain.
The long-term outlook and chances of another stroke depend on what has caused the stroke in the first place and whether this can be successfully treated.