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When it comes to your pets, you want to provide them with the best care possible. Knowing the signs of certain medical issues will help you in determining when your pet needs care. A stroke can cause serious damage. It is caused by a blood vessel becoming blocked or narrowed. Oxygen is no longer making it to the brain, which causes brain cells to die.  By recognizing the signs of strokes in dogs and cats, you can save their life.

Recognizing Strokes in Dogs and Cats

Cats and dogs can suffer strokes just as people can. It may seem like these strokes occur less frequently, but the signs can be more difficult to pick up on. While most strokes are caused by blood clots, bacteria, tumor cells, parasites, trauma, clotting disorders or other diseases may also be to blame. 

Animals can’t tell you directly when something is bothering them. They may be experiencing symptoms of a stroke that you can’t see. They may be having problems with memory or vision. They could be dizzy, but you might not know. That’s why it’s so important to know the things to watch for that you can notice. Depending on the damage severity and part of the brain affected, there will be different neurological signs

Signs and symptoms of a stroke in animals 

Dogs

For dogs, you should look for physical symptoms such as difficulty walking, a head tilt, falling or listing to one side, seizures, abnormal eye movement and blindness. Other signs include loss of housetraining, being less aware of surroundings and a change in personality. 

Cats

Cats have pretty dramatic signs when it comes to stroke and it may be easier to notice. You should watch for trouble walking, either limping on a front leg or dragging one or both hind legs. If your cat is howling or meowing in pain, it can also be a sign of stroke.

Causes of increased risk

Some diseases can cause an increased risk of stroke. If you have a cat or dog with one of the following diseases, you should be extra observant about stroke symptoms: cancer; hypertension; cushing’s disease; hypothyroidism; heart disease; and/or bleeding disorders.

Treatment

If you suspect your pet has had a stroke, the first thing you need to do is contact our offices for an emergency appointment. The sooner a stroke is diagnosed and treated, the better off your pet will be. 

A cardiac evaluation is often one of the first tests that is administered. Many times a stroke may be confused with a fainting episode. This is called syncope and is caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain as well, but usually due to heart disease. In order to make a correct diagnosis, tests may need to include a cardiac ultrasound, chest x-rays or an electrocardiogram.

If it is determined that your pet’s heart isn’t the problem, brain function will be evaluated next. To check for bleeding or brain blockages, an MRI or a CT scan may be done at a specialty hospital. To figure out the root cause of the blood flow problem, hormone level testing, blood pressure reading, urinalysis and blood work tests may be performed as well.

Once the cause of a stroke is determined, we will know how to treat it. Blood pressure stabilizers may be prescribed to fight hypertension. Your pet may be prescribed blood thinners to break up a clot or hormone therapy for hypothyroidism.

After care

As your pet recovers by restoring proper blood flow, the signs and symptoms of a stroke will usually diminish. 

It is very important to make sure to follow any instructions you are given to help your pet recover. You may also need to administer pain medication, and provide physical therapy and nutritional management as well. In the early stages of after care, your pet may also need assistance with urinating, defecating and walking.

To help your pet recover faster, make sure you’re around to help. Your pet should have a comfortable place to rest and plenty of encouragement. You should also make sure that your pet is eating and drinking appropriately. 

You will also need to help your pet get to his feet and encourage him to go outside as needed. Strenuous exercise or vigorous play should be avoided. Your pet will let you know when he is feeling well enough to play.

It can take a while to recover from a stroke. Owners need to be patient and not push their pet too hard during recovery. It can take a few weeks or more for your pet to be back to his/her normal behavior. Once your pet has recovered, make sure to still give plenty of love and encouragement. He may not be as agile as he was before the stroke and you need to keep that in mind as you resume play and a more normal schedule.

It can be terrifying when your pet goes through a major medical event. We are here to help you through the process. Contact our team at Longview Animal Hospital for support and guidance.