Understanding canine Strokes

One day he’s normal. The next he’s walking funny, eating funny, or losing his balance. There’s a possibility he may have had a stroke. Once considered a rare occurrence, canine strokes are now more frequently diagnosed, thanks in part to advances in neuro-imaging. But don’t confuse the word “stroke” with “heat stroke.” Although related, a “stroke” involves the obstruction or rupture of blood vessels in the brain. And because the brain controls the entire body, a stroke can impact your dog in a number of ways.

What is a stroke?

Like in humans, a dog’s brain relies on a constant supply of blood, which brings oxygen and nutrients and removes waste products. A stroke interrupts this blood flow either through:

  • A blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the brain.
  • The bleeding of ruptured blood vessels (hemorrhage) in the brain.

Either instance may result in the death of brain tissue. In addition, dogs sometimes experience “mini strokes” where the blood flow is only cut off for a short amount of time, causing less immediate damage. However, this could be a warning sign that a larger stroke may be around the corner.

Identifying a stroke

Common signs may include a lack of recognition of sensory stimuli on one side of your dog’s brain, resulting in his eating out of only one side of his dish or turning his head to the wrong side when his name is called. He may also have head tilt or turn, loss of balance, blindness, circling, and falling. Of course, these signs may be indicators of other brain conditions, too. If you notice any of these symptoms, have your pet examined by your vet immediately for a proper diagnosis.

What causes canine strokes?

Common causes of strokes in dogs include thyroid conditions, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, arterial diseases, diabetes, blood clotting diseases, heart disease, high blood pressure, bleeding from a brain tumor, and bleeding from head trauma.

Treatment options

Once your dog has had a stroke, there is no specific treatment that can repair the damage done to his brain. Your vet will focus on identifying a potential cause for the stroke in an attempt to prevent another one from happening. Most dogs tend to recover within a few weeks of having a stroke, depending on the location where the stroke affected his brain and the severity of the stroke.

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