It was once thought that strokes only occurred in humans, but small animal cerebrovascular accidents are being diagnosed more often today due to the increased availability of pet MRI. It turns out that strokes are pretty common in our animal friends, so it’s important to recognize dog stroke symptoms.
What Is a Dog Stroke?
Just like in people, a dog stroke occurs either when blood flow to part of the brain is obstructed (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel bursts (hemorrhagic stroke), depriving nerve cells and their pathways of oxygen.
Causes of Strokes in Dogs
Strokes generally occur in older dogs and are often secondary to a chronic metabolic disorder. However, about 50% of strokes in dogs have no identifiable underlying cause.
It’s also worth noting that some dog breeds are actually more prone to strokes.
“For any acute neurologic episode in a Greyhound, stroke is at the top of my list,” says Dr. Michael Reese, Veterinary Neurologist at Southeast Veterinary Neurology. “That one has been published,” he continues, “but Mini Schnauzers would be another top suspect for me. There isn’t specific literature regarding this, but I definitely see a higher incidence of strokes in Mini Schnauzers. There are certainly others, like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, but those are the two big ones in my book. If I see an older Greyhound or Mini Schnauzer with acute neurologic symptoms, it’s generally a stroke until proven otherwise.”
Dog Stroke Symptoms
Strokes in dogs occur suddenly without any warning. They are generally nonpainful, but cause an abrupt and severe onset of symptoms. Neurologic symptoms relate to the area of the nervous system where the stroke occurred.
Forebrain Stroke Symptoms in Dogs
Your dog basically walks around its environment in a circle, and try as it might, cannot follow a straight path.
Strokes can cause a sudden onset of seizures in your dog, resulting in loss of consciousness and convulsions.
Sudden behavior changes in dogs can be another symptom of a stroke. For example, your dog’s personality has abruptly changed, and it may seem lost, withdrawn, irritable, or just not itself.
Another symptom of this type of dog stroke can be head pressing. Your dog is compulsively pressing its head against a wall, corner, floor, or other firm, stationary object.
Strokes can even cause acute blindness in dogs, which may not be reversible.
Brainstem and Cerebellum Stroke Symptoms in Dogs
Your dog is having a problem with balance, which may include a head tilt, falling or rolling to one side, and inability to stand.
Strokes often cause weakness on one side of the body (hemiparesis).
Your dog may be spastically stepping much higher than necessary when walking.
Not to be confused with seizures, strokes affecting the cerebellum can cause involuntary shivering or shaking of the head, particularly when focused on a task (intention tremor).
Severe Mentation Changes
The reticular activating system sits in the front part of the brainstem and is responsible for waking up the forebrain. If it’s not working, your dog will have severe mentation changes, like obtundation (reduced alertness or dull mentation) or stupor (near unconsciousness).
Instead of circling its environment, your dog is basically just spinning around in a circle due to extreme weakness on one side of the body.
Spinal Cord Stroke in Dogs (including Fibrocartilaginous Embolism)
Your dog may be suffering from partial loss of voluntary motor function one one side of the body (hemiparesis), in the pelvic limbs (paraparesis), or all four limbs (tetraparesis).
Your dog may be completely paralyzed in the pelvic limbs (paraplegia) or all four limbs (tetraplegia).
What to Do if Your Dog Has a Stroke
Even though neurologic symptoms will often resolve with time, it’s imperative to see a veterinary neurologist. If an underlying cause is left untreated, there is risk for further strokes. Stroke treatment in dogs involves treating any underlying metabolic disease and supportive care. Long-term prognosis is generally good, as dogs are generally resilient in their ability to deal with these injuries.
Another reason to see a neurologist is that there are several other serious nervous system diseases that can cause dog stroke symptoms. To let you in on a little secret, neurologic symptoms are more so an indication of where in the nervous system the problem lies, rather than what the problem is. Only a veterinary neurologist will be able to accurately diagnose your dog’s condition and determine an appropriate treatment plan.
So if your best bud is experiencing any of these dog stroke symptoms, please contact Southeast Veterinary Neurology right away. A team of neurology experts is always available to put your pal on the road to recovery.