Dog Stroke: Symptoms,
Diagnosis & Treatment

Dog stroke is an uncommon condition. It is caused by an underlying health condition, most frequently Cushing's disease or chronic kidney failure.

Snapshot: Dog Stroke
Here's a quick overview if you're in a hurry. Come back later when you have time to read the complete guide.
  • Symptoms: Weaving or circling, loss of balance, loss of sight or blindness, tilting the head to one side, confusion, loss of bladder or bowel control.
  • Causes: This condition can be caused by head injury, kidney disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, seizures and parasites as well as other health conditions.
  • Diagnosis: Your veterinarian will run urine and blood tests and take your dog's blood pressure. He may also recommend an MRI.
  • Treatment: As is the case with many canine illnesses, supportive care is critical to treating a canine stroke. Your dog will be treated for the underlying medical condition that caused the stroke, whether that be diabetes, seizure, etc. In severe cases, your dog will receive oxygen and IV feedings.

Definition
There are two types of canine stroke. An ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain stops suddenly. This type of dog stroke is often caused by diabetes, high blood pressure, tumors, thyroid problems, Cushing's disease, heart disease, kidney disease and liver disease.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel bursts and causes bleeding in the brain. Common causes of this type of stroke are head (brain) injury and eating rat poison.

Symptoms
Symptoms include sudden changes in movement such as weaving, circling or loss of balance, loss of sight or blindness, tilting the head to one side, confusion and loss of bladder or bowel control.

Causes
A stroke may be caused by head injury, kidney disease, heart disease, heartworm disease, obesity, diabetes, seizures and parasites as well as other health conditions. There is a medication sometimes prescribed for canine incontinence, phenylpropanolamine, that may also cause a dog stroke. It was pulled from the human medication market because of the FDA concerns over a possible connection to strokes. Yet it remains legal for use in animals. If your vet prescribes this medicine for your dog, say "NO!" And you might think about switching vets. A responsible and knowledgeable veterinarian would not prescribe this medicine.

Diagnosis
If your dog is exhibiting one or more of the above symptoms, or is just plain not acting like himself, take him to your veterinarian. Since these symptoms can also be signs of other diseases and medical conditions, it is essential to consult your veterinarian. His/her first steps will be to gather a history from you, observe your dog's symptoms and run blood and urine tests.

If these tests, coupled with the dog's symptoms, do not clearly indicate a stroke, your vet may also recommend an MRI. An MRI also helps your vet diagnose the extent of brain damage your dog has suffered. This test, however, is usually $1,000 or more and not commonly available at vet clinics. If you want to pursue this type of test, you may need to go to a state veterinary school or there may be some "people hospitals" willing to do an MRI for an animal. Work with your vet to figure out the best alternative.

Recovery
While a stroke will be fatal for some patients, many dogs will survive and go on to lead a good life. Because a stroke affects the brain, you need to be aware that your dog will be different in some ways. Your best friend may recover most or all of his motor skills within a few days or months. Or you may need to carry him outside to relieve himself for the rest of his life. In most cases, if your friend survives a dog stroke, he will likely need special care. Remember that our dog friends do not have the hang-ups that many of us humans have. They do not care if they look perfect or need help in getting around. Their greatest joy is spending time with you, their best friend!

Conventional Treatment
As is the case with many canine illnesses, supportive care is critical to the treatment of a stroke. Your dog will be treated for the underlying medical condition that caused the stroke, whether that be diabetes, seizure, etc. In severe cases, your dog will receive oxygen and IV feedings.

Experimental Treatment
Several treatments are still considered experimental because they are not widely used. Drugs known as calcium channel blockers, used for high blood pressure control in humans, have reportedly minimized neurological damage if given to a canine patient within six hours after a dog stroke. Aspirin, which has proven benefits to humans, may also be beneficial to dogs. Talk with your vet about using this as a possible treatment for dog stroke.

Prevention
As I emphasize throughout this web site, good nutrition is the foundation of your dog's health. The best treatment for dog stroke is to prevent its occurrence by ensuring your canine best friend lives a healthy life. Regular exercise, time spent with you and quality food is essential. These factors will go a long way towards avoiding canine diabetes, obesity and other conditions that lead to dog stroke. Keep your best friend healthy. He's counting on you!

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