Just like their owners, dogs can be affected by a number of serious health problems, including strokes. And while strokes are less common in dogs than in humans, they are just as dangerous.
Therefore, it’s essential to know the signs of a stroke in dogs and what to do to help your beloved companion. But first, let’s take a look at the basics of strokes and their causes.
What Is a Stroke?
Generally speaking, a stroke happens when there is a loss of blood flow to parts of the brain. When that occurs, brain cells are deprived of their oxygen supplies, which leads to neurological abnormalities. Therefore, the impact varies depending on the part of the brain that doesn’t get enough oxygen.
Types of Strokes
It’s also important to understand that both humans and dogs can experience two main types of strokes. On the one hand, ischemic strokes occur when there is a disruption in blood vessels due to blood clots, bacteria, tumor cells, or clumps of platelets.
On the other hand, hemorrhagic strokes usually result from clotting problems or the rupture of blood vessels.
However, dogs can suffer from an additional type of stroke, commonly referred to as spinal strokes. These occur when an intervertebral disc gets damaged, and a piece of it breaks off, causing obstructions in a nearby blood vessel.
As a result, spinal strokes can cause partial or even complete paralysis of one or more limbs. But ultimately, everything depends on which intervertebral disc got damaged and the extent of the said damage.
Causes of Strokes in Dogs
Even though strokes in dogs are not something new, there is still some debate on their causes. Yet, most doctors agree that some underlying medical conditions can increase the chance of blood flow disruptions, and by extension, of strokes.
For example, ischemic strokes are commonly seen among dogs with kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Not only that but tumors, fat, and parasites can also lead to blood vessel blockage and ischemic strokes.
Similarly, hemorrhagic strokes happen in dogs suffering from diseases that interfere with blood clots, such as congenital immune clotting and high blood pressure. Additionally, some rodent poisons have been shown to trigger hemorrhagic strokes among both cats and dogs.
But when it comes to spinal strokes, trauma is what usually causes intervertebral disc damage. In fact, most dogs that suffer from spinal strokes are victims of accidents or playtime injuries. And due to the unique aspect of spinal strokes, they are harder to prevent or treat.
5 Signs of a Stroke in Your Dog
As previously mentioned, it’s extremely important to notice the signs of a stroke, as it can save your companion’s life. Yet, since strokes affect different parts of the brain, the symptoms differ from one dog to another. Nevertheless, there are a few telltale signs that should help you recognize a stroke.
Although lethargy is one of the most common signs of a stroke, it’s also easily overlooked, as your dog could seem just tired. However, extreme lethargy usually occurs when your dog’s brain is not getting enough oxygen, during or right before a stroke.
As a result, you should pay close attention if your dog seems more tired than usual or doesn’t respond as it normally would.
It’s also worth mentioning that lethargy could hide fainting, which is another symptom of a stroke. If your dog suddenly falls asleep, it may be a loss of consciousness due to a stroke. You should immediately try to wake your dog up, and if he is still unresponsive, then the cause is most certainly a stroke.
2. Abnormal Eye Movements
More often than not, strokes cause changes in the eye’s movement and position. For example, a constant movement of the eyes from side to side or around in circles is a common sign of strokes. Similarly, abnormal eye positioning or strabismus should warrant an immediate vet visit.
3. Aimless Movements
Strokes can cause misfires in the brain, which will give false signals to your dog. As a result, he might wander aimlessly around the house, or fail to respond when called.
Even worse, he might go the opposite direction of you while trying desperately to change his path. If you notice any of this confusion in your dog, then you should try to keep him in place to prevent accidents.
4. Balance Loss
When strokes affect your dog’s brain, they usually interfere with the ability to stay upright. Therefore, your dog might suddenly fall down or have a hard time walking around without leaning on objects for balance. If you notice that your dog leans to the side or leans on your legs, then he is most likely dealing with a stroke.
5. Loss of Body Control
Last but not least, strokes can disturb body systems, causing your dog to vomit, have diarrhea, or pee uncontrollably. As the stroke continues to become more noticeable, your dog might have trouble breathing and will gasp for air.
And while those symptoms may look like an upset stomach, be on the lookout for their intensity and duration.
What Should You Do?
Since strokes can happen randomly, with little to no warning, it can be hard to stay calm and react in a timely manner. But if you notice that your dog is showing signs of a stroke, you need to call your vet immediately.
He will be able to perform a cardiac evaluation and determine if your dog is suffering from a stroke or something else. Not only that, but your vet can also develop a treatment plan to alleviate the symptoms and avoid other strokes.
However, keep in mind that you also need to make sure that your dog is not hurting himself before you can visit your vet. Try to hide any dangerous objects or furniture that your dog might run into when having a stroke. Similarly, always keep an eye on your dog in case of balance loss, as he could break his legs when falling.
Overall, strokes can be a scary experience, for both you and your companion. And while it’s hard to predict when they will happen, you should still be on the lookout for common signs of a stroke in dogs such as lethargy. By acting quickly, you will be able to save your dog and allow him to enjoy a healthy and happy life.