Canine Strokes

happy senior lab outdoors

Strokes are a frighteningly common occurrence among the elderly. In the United States, it is the third biggest cause of death. While dogs may not get strokes as frequently as humans, they are something to be aware of if you have an aged or geriatric dog.

What Is A Stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood flow to a section or regions of the brain is interrupted. This, like in people, can induce a variety of neurological symptoms. A stroke can happen in two ways, according to the mechanics. Ischemic strokes occur when blood arteries get clogged. Blood clots, tumor cells, platelet clumping, germs, and even parasites can cause this. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when blood arteries in the brain break, either due to a rupture or a clotting issue.

If your dog has suffered a stroke you may see signs that are similar to those seen in people.

Signs of Strokes in Dogs

  • Uncoordinated gait or complete inability to walk
  • Head tilt
  • Abnormal eye movements (“nystagmus”)
  • Abnormal eye positioning (“strabismus”)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Falling or listing to one side
  • Blindness
  • Abnormal behavior/sudden change in behavior
  • Less aware of surroundings or confusion
  • Pacing or circling
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Symptoms will appear quickly and might last anywhere from a few minutes to hours or even days. The degree and appearance of symptoms will be determined by the location of the brain damage. In other words, a stroke in one section of the brain may be accompanied by moderate, short-term symptoms, but a stroke in another part of the brain may be accompanied by severe, long-term symptoms.

Strokes are far more common in older dogs, despite the fact that they are not a common diagnosis given by veterinarians. Senior dogs with a disease condition that increases their risk of bleeding are more likely to suffer a stroke than senior dogs without such disorders. Kidney illness, Cushing's disease, hypothyroidism, malignancies, blood problems, and heart disease can all raise your dog's stroke risk. There is no one dog breed that is predisposed to stroke, however there are breeds that are predisposed to the disease processes outlined above.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Dog Is Having a Stroke

Take your dog to the veterinarian right away if any of the symptoms listed above appear suddenly. To rule out any concomitant illnesses, your veterinarian may order blood tests, urine, radiography, an EKG, or a blood pressure reading. Unfortunately, because a stroke originates in the brain's soft tissues, only sophisticated imaging, such as an MRI or CAT scan, can provide a clear diagnosis. While they are accessible in veterinary care, they generally need a visit to a referral hospital, which can be costly. If any underlying conditions are discovered, drugs will be recommended to help control them.

Idiopathic vestibular sickness, which appears similarly but is a separate condition, should also be ruled out by your veterinarian. Idiopathic means that the actual origin of the sickness is unknown, but this ailment, also known as Old Dog Syndrome, affects your dog's inner ear's vestibular system. A dog with vestibular disorder will develop a head tilt, a circular gait, and may refuse to eat. Although the symptoms resemble those of a stroke, idiopathic vestibular illness is significantly more prevalent in senior dogs than a real stroke.

What Can I Do for My Dog if They Have a Stroke?

The kind of stroke, its severity, and the presence or absence of any underlying conditions all influence recovery. Some dogs may begin to recuperate in a matter of weeks, while others will take longer. Furthermore, some dogs may never recover completely. Unfortunately, some dogs may get a deadly stroke.

There is no specific treatment for strokes in dogs. Rather, supportive care to help make them feel more comfortable will be prescribed by your veterinarian. 

Can I Do Anything to Prevent Strokes in My Dog?

No medical intervention can truly prevent strokes. Routine checks with your veterinarian, including blood tests, can uncover any conditions that may raise your dog's risk of a stroke before they show any clinical signs that may increase your dog's chance of a stroke. If you have a dog that is prone to Cushing's disease, heart disease, renal disease, hypothyroidism, and other conditions, getting familiar with the signs and symptoms of those diseases can help you prevent a stroke in the future.