A stroke is one of those uncommon emergencies that can land a pet in the vet clinic in a heartbeat. One moment your dog seems fine, and then the next it all changes.
If your pet shows any of the following signs, it’s wise to get to a veterinarian right away. And even if your dog doesn’t have any of these signs, it’s still a good idea to see the vet.
When you see a dog having a stroke, there are some signs you can look for.
First, look for drooling. A dog who is having a stroke may drool or put his tongue out of his mouth.
Second, look for lethargy. If your dog is sleeping more than usual, it could be a sign that he is having a stroke.
Thirdly, look at their balance. If your dog has trouble walking straight and seems to be falling over often, this may also be an indication of a stroke.
Dog Stroke Symptoms
Stroke symptoms in dogs are more common than you may realize. In fact, it’s estimated that approximately 50% of all strokes occur in dogs. While strokes in humans are usually caused by clots or blockages in the brain, strokes in dogs are usually caused by a ruptured blood vessel. As with human strokes, the location and severity of the stroke can vary from mild to severe.
The signs of a dog having a stroke can be difficult to identify because they may not always be obvious. Stroke symptoms in dogs include:
- Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body or face
- Changes in pupil size or tone (e.g., fixed pupils)
If your dog experiences any of these symptoms, it’s important to take them to a vet immediately.
Signs Of A Dog Having A Stroke
What is a stroke in dogs?
A canine stroke is defined as an interruption of blood flow to a specific area of the brain. Due to the fact that brain oxygenation is compromised, the cells of that organ are affected and in some cases may stop working.
There are two types of stroke that we must learn to differentiate in order to have a better management of the situation:
- Ischemic or embolic stroke: is when an artery is obstructed by a clot or an embolus, partially or completely limiting blood flow. This results in a decrease in the amount of oxygen reaching the brain .
- Hemorrhagic stroke: is produced when a blood vessel breaks, resulting in cerebral hemorrhage.
A canine stroke is similar to a heart attack because in a heart attack there is also an interruption in the blood flow. However, there is difference between a heart attack and a stroke in dogs. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked. Without oxygenated blood, the heart muscles begin to die. On the other hand, a stroke attacks the brain. A canine stroke occurs when a blood vessel feeding the brain gets clogged or bursts, cutting off vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
Stroke symptoms in dogs
The presentation of this pathology is usually of great concern to the guardian of the pet, since it has very characteristic signs and symptoms that appear abruptly. The neurological signs that a dog with a stroke may present will be closely related to the area of the brain that is affected. The signs and symptoms of a stroke in dogs are as follows:
- Loss of consciousness
- Falling to one side
- Muscular weakness
- Difficulty maintaining correct posture
- Head tilt
- Vestibular syndrome
- Abnormal eye position or movement
A great clue for detecting what type of stroke your dog has is by observing the speed in which the symptoms reached their maximum expression. In the embolic stroke the sign will appear abruptly, whereas in the hemorrhagic stroke they have an onset and delayed development.
Causes of stroke in dogs
There are many causes that can generate this pathology in canines. Any condition that is capable of generating a blood clot large enough to compromise cerebral blood flow may be a direct culprit for a stroke. Among the most frequent causes we have:
- Neoplasms: it is defined as an abnormal formation of tissue, which can be malignant or benign. A neoplasm is capable of causing both blockages and clots that can travel through the bloodstream and compromise oxygenation of the brain.
- Endocarditis: the condition of the pericardium, which can turn into a bacterial infection, can be the cause of clots that end up making the cerebral blood supply less effective. Consequently, provoking a stroke.
- Migration or plunger parasites: some parasites (such as heartworms), are able to migrate through the bloodstream or form a plunger if they are grouped. Thus, obstructing the passage of blood towards the brain.
- Formation of post surgical clots: in some occasions, blood clots can appear after the patient has undergone surgery.
- Von Willebrand’s disease: this is a hematological disorder that delays coagulation due to the lack of certain proteins. This condition could facilitate a hemorrhagic stroke.
- Thrombocytopenia: refers to low platelets in dogs, which can result in hemorrhagic strokes due to coagulation being compromised. In this case, we can also mention a very common disease in dogs called canine ehrlichiosis, which sometimes causes thrombocytopenia.
- Hypertension: Dogs that tend to handle higher blood pressure values than normal are candidates for a stroke. We can also mention chronic kidney disease or arteriosclerosis, since they are pathologies associated with arterial hypertension.
If you suspect your dog is not feeling well, you should head to the veterinarian as soon as possible so as to properly diagnose and treat their health issues.
Diagnosis of stroke in dogs
A stroke is a very serious condition with many possible causes. This is why the veterinary practitioner will be practically obliged to carry out all or almost all the complementary examinations that exist to collect as much information as possible.
Firstly, your veterinarian must diagnose the type of stroke that your dog has. The first clue about that presumptive diagnosis will be obtained in the anamnesis. The complementary evaluation that is most recommended to effectively diagnose a stroke is a computed tomography.
When searching for the cause, the veterinarian will likely proceed to perform a hematology test. This blood chemistry and urinalysis test will seek to collect important information. A blood test will never hurt, especially when you want to rule out a septic embolus. It is also conducive to measuring clotting times and performing endocrinological tests that can guide the veterinarian to the cause of the stroke.
They must compulsorily perform hemodynamic tests such as blood pressure measurement, echocardiogram and electrocardiogram, as well as perform X-rays and ultrasound to rule out any neoplasm that may be to blame for the stroke.
Treatment for stroke in dogs
This pathology does not have a specific treatment to reverse the condition. Most of the time, the therapy that is performed is short term, while the veterinarian can properly and correctly diagnose the dog with certainty. These short term therapies are not a protocol, they must be tailored to each patient according to their needs and health condition.
Prevention is the best way to combat this circumstance. The guardian of a dog who has survived a stroke should take the necessary considerations and improve the habits of the dog to reduce the chances of this happening again. Likewise, the guardian of a puppy that has not suffered from this disease must be informed of these risks so as to give their pet a better quality of life. These healthy habits include the right diet, frequent exercise and regular visits to the veterinarian.
To improve their diet, we recommend you feed them a natural canine diet. To learn more, visit our article on the best diet for a dog.
Can a dog recover from a stroke?
The prognosis is based on the areas of the brain that could be affected, the type of stroke and how severe the damage to the brain cells was. The strokes with the best prognosis are ischemic, while hemorrhagic stroke can be more life-threatening.
In some cases, a recovered puppy or adult dog can have permanent sequalae. In other cases, they are very lucky and recover from this.
Difference between seizures and stroke in dogs
A seizure can be a symptom of a stroke. So, how can we tell the difference between seizures and strokes in dogs? Although both occur in the brain, the difference is in what caused it to happen. While a stroke occurs due to a disruption of the blood circulation in the brain, a seizure occurs to a surge of electrical activity in the brain.
You can recognise a seizure by your dog’s behavior. When having a seizure, a dog’s muscles will become stiff and they will become unconscious. Then, their limbs may shake quickly. Their eyes may remain open but during this phase they remain unconscious. This may last for up to two minutes.
If your dog ever has a seizure, whether it’s because of a stroke or any other reason, you must take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible to diagnose and treat this condition early on.