"Recognising the symptoms of stroke in the dog
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"Recognising the symptoms of stroke in the dog

Dogs
Health & Safety

A stroke is a very serious and often sudden in onset health condition that can occur in both people and in other animals like dogs. A stroke is caused when the blood flow to the dog’s brain is compromised, which can lead to a large and diverse number of neurological problems.

Strokes in dogs come in two different types, which are referred to as an ischemic stroke and a haemorrhagic stroke respectively.

An ischemic stroke occurs when something obstructs a blood vessel, such as a blood clot, cancerous cells, clotted platelets, or even as a secondary complication of bacterial and parasitic infections.

Haemorrhagic strokes occur as a result of the rupture of a blood vessel, or because of a clotting disorder that causes the dog’s body to be unable to stop and heal internal bleeding.

Whatever type of stroke occurs, a stroke is a veterinary emergency, which requires immediate attention. Without treatment, a stroke in the dog can be fatal, and if treatment is delayed, the dog’s chances of effecting a full or almost-full recovery are seriously compromised.

For this reason, it is incredibly important for all dog owners to have a basic understanding of strokes in dogs, and to be able to recognise the symptoms and warning indicators that a dog has had a stroke.

In this article we will explain the symptoms of a stroke in dogs in more detail, so that you can learn the warning signs to watch out for. Read on to learn more.

What causes a stroke in dogs?

Strokes in dogs are not hugely common compared to other health issues that can arise, and they tend to happen most commonly in senior and mature dogs, often as the result of an underlying health condition that affects the dog’s ability to clot the blood, or that leads to inappropriate clot formation.

There are a wide range of different health conditions that can arise in dogs and that in turn, affect the body’s blood circulation and clotting and so, that can increase the risk factors for a stroke.

A number of chronic health conditions (and in some cases, the medications used to treat them) can cause strokes, such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, heart disease, various types of cancers and a number of hormonal and immune-mediated conditions too. Medications such as steroids – particularly if given in high doses over a long period of time – can also cause strokes.

Injuries and internal injuries can result in a stroke too – particularly head injuries, which can result in brain bleeds that in turn cause haemorrhagic strokes. Even if your dog appears to be perfectly fine after a knock or bump, a brain bleed can take time to develop, and so your dog should be checked out by the vet immediately, even if they don’t seem to be unwell.

Injuries in other parts of the body too can cause internal bleeding and blood clot formation, even if they don’t affect the head directly. Dogs with clotting disorders of any type are at a much greater risk of stroke than others.

The symptoms of a stroke in dogs

A stroke in the making can be hard to identify even if you are very vigilant, but the sooner you can identify the symptoms and get help from your vet, the better the dog’s eventual prognosis. You should be especially vigilant if your dog has increased risk factors for a stroke, if they have recently been injured, or if they are mature or senior in years.

Stroke symptoms in dogs can be quite variable, and how they present in any given dog will depend on a number of factors, so you should not expect to see all of these symptoms together in any one dog.

Some of the most common symptoms that a dog has had a stroke include:

  • Sudden-onset symptoms – a dog may well appear totally fine and normal, but a few minutes later, start to act oddly or display symptoms.
  • Lack of coordination when standing up or walking, which may cause the dog to keep falling down, being unable to make progress, or otherwise having problems moving around.
  • The head held at an angle tilted to one side.
  • Involuntary, uncontrolled eye movements, such as the eyes flickering or wobbling from side to side, or swivelling in their sockets.
  • The dog’s eyes may also appear uneven, with the pupils pointing in different directions, being different sizes, or being larger than normal.
  • A dog that has had a stroke may faint, lose consciousness, or become unresponsive.
  • Staggering to one side, potentially falling over.
  • Apparent loss of vision in one or both eyes.
  • Strange or out of character behaviours such as confusion, aggression or fear.
  • Apparent memory loss, which might manifest as an inability to follow commands, or a failure to remember people or things that the dog knows well.

If you spot symptoms such as the above in your dog, you must contact your vet immediately and arrange for them to be seen as a priority, even if the issue occurs outside of normal clinic hours. Tell your vet that you think your dog may have suffered a stroke and arrange transport to the clinic asap.

Prompt intervention and treatment will give a dog that has had a stroke the best possible chances of survival, and of making a full recovery and getting back to normal in good time.

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