Neurological diseases

How to Detect the Symptoms of Stroke in Dogs

Manuel F. Faneite P
By Manuel F. Faneite P, Veterinarian. April 28, 2020
How to Detect the Symptoms of Stroke in Dogs

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Some human pathologies or conditions also appear in dogs. Therefore, when we observe our dogs having certain symptoms, we may begin to worry.

In this AnimalWised article we will explain how to detect the symptoms of stroke in dogs. We will also go into depth of the causes, clinical signs and treatment for canine stroke. We'll also explain the difference between a seizure and a stroke in dogs.

You may also be interested in: What Causes a Dog to Lose Balance?
  1. What is a stroke in dogs?
  2. Stroke symptoms in dogs
  3. Causes of stroke in dogs
  4. Diagnosis of stroke in dogs
  5. Treatment for stroke in dogs
  6. Can a dog recover from a stroke?
  7. Difference between seizures and stroke in dogs

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:

  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blindness
  • Falling to one side
  • Paralysis
  • Muscular weakness
  • Difficulty maintaining correct posture
  • Ataxia
  • Head tilt
  • Vestibular syndrome
  • Fever
  • Nystagmus
  • 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.

How to Detect the Symptoms of Stroke in Dogs - Stroke symptoms in dogs

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.

To learn more, we invite you to read our article on how to interpret a dog blood test.

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.

How to Detect the Symptoms of Stroke in Dogs - Can a dog recover from a stroke?

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.

If you wish to learn more, we invite you to read our article on seizures in dogs.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Detect the Symptoms of Stroke in Dogs, we recommend you visit our Neurological diseases category.

  • Wessmann, A., Chandler, K., & Garosi, L. (2009). Ischaemic and haemorrhagic stroke in the dog. The Veterinary Journal.

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Tammy Whitt
I love my dog but I don't think I could have another dog
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