How Do I Know if My Dog Had a Stroke?

How Do I Know if My Dog Had a Stroke?

Posted by Volhard Dog Nutrition on Jul 21st 2023

Loss of balance, extreme fatigue, vomiting, abnormal eye movements — all of these symptoms speak of various medical conditions of even more diverse causes, but they could indicate an elusive issue even among humans: stroke.

Although rare, dog stroke poses a serious threat to your four-legged partner's health. Aside from being hard to detect, this condition can cause irreversible damage before we ever notice its symptoms. That is why teaching pet parents how to spot stroke symptoms is essential toward increasing their dogs' chances of making a full recovery.

Today's Volhard Dog Nutrition article will provide an extensive explanation of the dog stroke types, symptoms, underlying diseases, and remedies!

What is a Stroke in Dogs?

A stroke — or cerebrovascular accident (CVA) is the result of a disrupted blood flow to the brain, causing tissue damage and neurologic abnormalities. A concerning number of strokes occur without any warning, causing irreparable damage to the brain. The type and intensity of symptoms will differ based on the affected brain lobes.

Dogs Can Experience Two Types of Strokes

Strokes in dogs are classified into two main categories:

  1. Ischemic strokes: The dog experiences a sudden lack of blood supply to the brain stemming from a blockage.
  2. Hemorrhagic strokes: A ruptured blood vessel starts leaking blood into the brain.

A complete picture of the types of strokes occurring in dogs also includes the Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE), more commonly known as a “spinal stroke.” This condition is the result of an intervertebral disc obstructing blood vessels found in the spinal cord. Depending on the location of the obstruction, FCE may lead to partial or complete paralysis.

What Breeds are Predisposed to Dog Stroke?

Although it does not discriminate between breeds, research has shown how strokes occur more frequently among dogs that are predisposed to certain underlying diseases, such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (heart disease) or Miniature Poodles, Boxers, and Dachshunds (Cushing's disease).

Dog stroke symptoms

Dog Stroke Symptoms

The stroke symptoms in dogs fall under five categories:

  1. Walking-related symptoms
  2. Loss of control of the body systems
  3. Extreme fatigue
  4. Brain's incorrect communication of signals to the body
  5. Eye movement

1. Walking-related Symptoms

Strokes affect the dog's ability to stay upright, causing sudden symptoms such as a sudden loss of balance and an inability to lean to one side. The symptoms are not always indicative of strokes in dogs, so bring this matter to your veterinarian's attention for a more educated diagnosis.

2. Loss of Control of the Body Systems

A stroke will affect your dog's ability to control their body systems, resulting in diarrhea, gasping, vomiting, and urinary incontinence.

If your dog manifests such symptoms, make sure to document their duration and intensity. Body system control loss shares these symptoms with stomach upsets, although to a more serious degree. After a stroke, your dog will constantly dry heave (that is, try to throw up without regurgitating any food), a symptom uncommon with an upset stomach.

3. Extreme Fatigue

If your dog is doubling down on their nap time, beware, as extreme tiredness can be a stroke symptom.

Your dog may suddenly seem to fall asleep when, in reality, they're experiencing a loss of consciousness. Contact your vet immediately if you cannot wake your dog up.

4. The Brain's Incorrect Communication of Signals to the Body

Dog strokes alter the communication of signals from the brain to the body. That is why affected dogs don't always respond appropriately to spoken commands; instead, they wander aimlessly or or walk in circles as if under influence.

5. Abnormal Eye Movements

Finally, abnormal eye movements might mean that a stroke occurred in your dog. Be on the lookout for symptoms such as:

  • Both eyes focusing on different spots
  • Constantly rotating eyes
  • Eyes that dart from side to side
  • One eye staying still while the other moves

Do Not Confuse the Symptoms of Stroke With Other Conditions!

Considering how numerous and diverse stroke symptoms are, diagnosing this condition is not always straightforward.

We've already mentioned how the duration and intensity of diarrhea, gasping, or vomiting help distinguish between a stroke and a stomach upset.

Another condition with similar symptoms is Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. This common medical issue among older dogs affects the ear's inner structures, causing head tilt, loss of balance, and other abnormal movements. The dizziness resulting from these symptoms may further lead to nausea and vomiting. Fortunately, experts concur that most dogs recover from vestibular disease within a few weeks.

Underlying causes of strokes in dogs

What is the Underlying Cause of Stroke in Dogs?

Various underlying medical conditions that can lead to a dog suffering a stroke, such as:

  1. A ruptured blood vessel
  2. An undetected blood clot, possible caused by an aneurysm
  3. A tumor
  4. Cancer
  5. Cushing's disease
  6. Diabetes
  7. Exposure to toxins (for example, rat poison)
  8. Heart disease
  9. High blood pressure
  10. Kidney disease

Let Your Vet Attend to Your Dog's Stroke Symptoms

Are all the signs and symptoms pointing toward a stroke? Immediately reach out to your vet.

Only a prompt diagnosis and treatment plan will check or undo the damage caused by a stroke. Any delay in getting help will only worsen the condition and, as a result, your dog's recovery prospects.

Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination and recommend various tests to accurately diagnose the stroke and rule out any other potential conditions, such as:

  • Cardiac ultrasound, chest X-rays, or electrocardiogram to rule out heart disease.
  • Blood pressure reading, hormone level testing, and urinalysis to identify the factors impeding proper blood flow.
  • MRI or CT scan to evaluate brain function and detect brain blockages/bleeding.

Are Strokes in Dogs Preventable?

If you profess the advantages of proactivity over a reactive approach, you'll be delighted to learn that most strokes in dogs are preventable! It's all about paying attention to your dog's health and scheduling regular wellness checkups or bloodwork.

Proactivity will help detect any underlying diseases associated with stroke in a timely manner, allowing you and your vet to plan and implement a fitting response.

Is the Damage Caused by a Stroke Reversible?

Reversing the damage caused by a stroke is a dilemma with numerous variables.

The prospect of recovery is heavily dependent upon the severity of the stroke. The longer the brain goes without blood flow, the higher the chance of permanent damage. However, if the condition is quickly contained, your dog will gradually bounce back and even have a shot at full recovery! With adequate supportive care, your dog's long-term prognosis will be encouraging!

There is no specific treatment plan for strokes in dogs. Therefore, identifying and addressing the underlying cause is key to future prevention. For example:

  • If the stroke is linked to hypertension, your vet will prescribe high blood pressure medication.
  • If your dog suffers an ischemic stroke, your vet will prescribe blood thinners.

Physical therapy and pain medication may also become part of your dog's treatment plan. The journey toward recovery won't be easy, but, with enough patience, your dog will learn not to allow stroke symptoms affect their quality of life!

Brown guard dog standing on the beach

Notice the Warning Signs of Stroke Before the Damage is Done!

As a pet parent, you're now fully equipped to notice signs of stroke in your dog in a timely manner. Remember that cerebrovascular accidents share many of their common signs with other conditions, so only a proper diagnosis will set your dog on the ideal recovery path. But, once you know what you're dealing with, you'll have an easier time preventing further strokes and helping your dog enjoy life to the fullest! For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!

Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!

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