What is a stroke?
A neurological condition a stroke, or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), occurs due to a lack of blood flow in the brain, which prevents nerve impulse from the brain being transmitted to the rest of the body. Cats and dogs can experience two types of stroke:
- An ischemic stroke, where the blood supply to the brain is restricted or reduced, leading to a lack of oxygen.
- A hemorrhagic stroke, which happens when the blood vessels within the brain burst, causing a bleed.
While previously thought of as uncommon in cats and dogs, the advancement of neuro-imaging has meant that many more cases are being caught and treated.
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
While less debilitating than in humans, dogs and cats can experience a range of different symptoms. However, there is no way to prevent a stroke, and these symptoms will appear suddenly, which can be distressing.
Stroke symptoms in dogs may include:
- Loss of coordination or balance
- Difficulty walking
- Walking in circles
- Loss of consciousness
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Head tilting
- Uncontrollable eye movements
- Loss of appetite
A stroke in dogs can be caused by a number of different factors, and your dog may be experiencing a stroke due to an underlying condition such as kidney or heart disease, or due to trauma. It is worth noting that symptoms vary and can often be mistaken for symptoms of other conditions such as vertigo or an infection.
How do I know if my cat is having a stroke?
A stroke can cause cats to experience a number of symptoms including:
- Loud meowing or howling due to pain.
- Limping on their front legs.
- Dragging of back legs.
Again, it is important to remember that your cats’ symptoms may be an indicator of other conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, cardiomyopathy, seizures or vestibular disease, or the result of toxins or a trauma.
How is a stroke in dogs or a stroke in cats diagnosed?
Determining the cause of a stroke in cats and dogs is much more difficult than in humans, as your pet cannot describe to you their symptoms. Similarly, as noted above, stroke symptoms in cats and dogs are very easily confused with symptoms of other conditions.
So, if you think your cat or dog has had a stroke, it’s important to contact your veterinarian as soon as you can. As a range of different conditions may be causing stroke-like symptoms, so your veterinary professional will first rule out any other underlying causes. Initially, a full medical history check and physical examination will be conducted.
What tests are carried out?
Tests will be carried out to determine the cause of the stroke:
- Blood and urine samples will be taken to provide information about the body, and to look for any abnormalities.
- Diagnostic testing, such as an MRI scan, will be used to gain full visibility of the brain, and to determine where and why the stroke occurred.
These tests are designed to rule out any underlying causes, and to gain a clearer picture of the damage caused by the seizure, in order to determine the correct treatment plan.
How is a stroke treated?
Treatment for pets who have had strokes generally focuses on reducing the symptoms and improving oxygen and blood flow to the brain. Initially, your veterinarian will treat any underlying conditions which may cause further strokes. For example, if your pet is experiencing regular blood clots, they may be prescribed blood-thinners. While, if the stroke was caused by an infection, antibiotics will be used as a treatment.
Your pet may experience some residual effects from the stroke, including dizziness and vomiting. If this happens, anti-sickness drugs will be prescribed, and you should try and settle your dog in a calm and quiet place until they feel better.
Can my pet recover from a stroke?
The recovery rate for a stroke depends on a number of different factors:
- The severity of the stroke.
- Which area of the brain was affected.
- If the stroke caused permanent damage.
- How long the brain was without oxygen.
- The underlying cause.
We understand that it can be alarming to see your pet in distress, but, in animals, a stroke is not as debilitating as it is in humans, and is not always life-threatening. Most pets will recover from a stroke if they are treated early and given the correct care.