Strokes in dogs are relatively rare and can be difficult to spot.
A stroke occurs when there is disruption to the blood flow to the brain. If you suspect your pet is having a stroke, get them to the vet immediately.
Two types of strokes – as with humans, a stroke can result from a clot or a bleed:
- Ischaemic dog strokes are caused by a sudden lack of blood supply to the brain.
- Haemorrhagic dog strokes are caused by bleeding within the brain.
Here are the five main symptoms to spot when your dog if your dog is having a stroke.
You be alerted to the fact your dog has suffered a stroke because he sends warning signs when he walks. Since strokes affect the brain, they impair your pet’s ability to remain upright. Therefore, if your dog sufferers a sudden loss of balance, is unable to stand, leans to one side, or seeks to leans on you, then get the advice of your vet.
A stroke can also cause your pet to lose control of their body systems:
- loss of bladder control
- heart arrhythmias
- inability to breathe
However, some of these symptoms are also consistent with canine stomach upsets. Therefore, it is essential to differentiate between a case of upset stomach and a stroke. With a stroke, the duration and intensity of symptoms are far greater than those of a stomach upset. For example, with a stroke your dog might constantly dry heave (attempt to vomit, without bringing anything up) and seem unable to stop.
Extreme tiredness can be a symptom of stroke in dogs. Therefore, if your dog suddenly seems to fall asleep, it could actually be loss of consciousness due to a stroke. If your dog doesn’t wake when you try to rouse him, then contact your vet immediately.
In the case of a stroke, your pet’s brain sends incorrect signals to their body. For example, your pet may not be able respond to your spoken directions. Instead, he may move in a directionless fashion and seem to be walking in circles. He may appear as though he is drunk and be unable to walk in a straight line.
Stroke can affect how your pet controls their eyes. Look out for abnormal eye movements such as your dog’s eyes constantly rotating or darting from side to side. Furthermore, one eye may stay still while the other moves, or both your pet’s eyes may look as though they are focusing on two different spots. As a result, if you see any of these changes to visions, contact your vet.
Possible underlying medical conditions that can lead to your pet suffering a stroke
- undetected blood clots
- clotting disorders
- ruptured blood vessels or aneurysms
- Cushing’s disease – (hyperadrenocorticism – a condition where the body overproduces the steroid hormone cortisol. It’s a relatively common condition in middle aged and older dogs, usually caused by a benign tumour on the pituitary gland).
- Hypertension – high blood pressure
- kidney disease
- heart disease
- exposure to certain toxins such as rat poison
Identifying the cause of the stroke
There is no specific treatment to repair damage to your pet’s brain following a stroke. However, your vet will try and identify a possible cause to prevent further strokes. Some pets make a full recovery from their stroke, others may suffer permanent damage. Physiotherapy can be helpful in their rehabilitation.
Correct treatment can resolve the cause of strokes
The correct treatment can target the cause of the stroke. For example, if your pet’s stroke was caused by hypertension then your vet would prescribe high blood pressure medication to reduce the likelihood of further strokes. Blood thinning anticoagulants might be administered if a clot caused the stroke.
Are strokes in dogs preventable?
Many strokes are preventable, as they are closely associated with underlying disease, regular check-ups with the vet can address potential causes and reduce the likelihood of your pet experiencing a stroke.
First Aid for Pets provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for veterinary advice. The author does not accept any liability or responsibility for any inaccuracies or for any mistreatment or misdiagnosis of any person or animal, however caused. It is strongly advised that you attend a practical First Aid for Pets course or take our online course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.