Yesterday, in the second of an article series on syncope, seizures, stroke and heart attack in dogs, I talked about seizures and how they compare to syncope .
If you missed yesterday’s article, you can find it here.
If you missed the first installment of the article series, you will want to read that first, you can find it here.
Today we are going to talk about stroke in dogs and what you need to know.
How Do Syncope and Seizures Compare to a Stroke?
What is a Stroke?
As with people, a stroke in dogs happens when blood flow to the brain is interrupted.
Strokes in dogs are much less frequent than they are in people. When they do occur and response time and treatment are fast, dogs have a better chance of recovering completely than people do.
There are three types of stroke that occur in dogs, these are classified based upon what causes the interruption of blood flow to the brain.
- A stroke that results from the blockage of an artery. This is often referred to as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or a transient ischemic attack (TIA).
- A stroke that results from the hemorrhage or rupture of a blood vessel. This is also referred to as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or a transient ischemic attack (TIA).
- A stroke that results from cartilage in the back breaking off and traveling to the spinal chord. This is referred to as a fibrocartilaginous embolism.
What Causes a Stroke?
There are quite a few things that can contribute to a stroke in dogs, but, like people, age seems to play a significant role. Older dogs are much more likely to suffer a stroke, however, this could be due to the fact that older dogs are more likely to have health concerns that contribute to a stroke.
Some of the health concerns that have been linked to stroke in dogs include:
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disease
- Brain tumor or head injury
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Parasitic infestation
- Cushing’s disease
- Kidney disease
These diseases and illnesses will not always contribute to stroke activity, particularly if they are well managed.
What Happens During a Stroke?
Unlike seizure activity, when a dog experiences a stroke, there are generally no warning signs that the stroke is about to happen.
There are signs that tend to follow stroke activity that aren’t always easy to notice, these include:
- Having the head tilted on one side
- Having trouble staying balanced
- Having trouble standing up
- Walking in circles
- Turning in the wrong direction
- Urinary or fecal incontinence
- Deep red mucous membranes (eyelids and gums)
- Heart arrhythmia
If you notice any of these signs in your dog, you should get to your veterinarian or emergency animal clinic immediately. Just like people, the faster you address a stroke in your dog, the better their prognosis will be.
You should also note that these symptoms are not always indicative of a stroke, they can also be caused by other health concerns that still need to be addressed by your veterinarian.
What Should You Do When Your Dog Experiences a Stroke?
As I mentioned above, you likely will not know that your dog is experiencing a stroke when it happens, you will more likely see the after effects of the stroke.
When you see these symptoms, or if you do suspect that your dog is experiencing a stroke, call your veterinarian immediately.
You will need to safely contain your dog and get to the vet or emergency vet clinic right away to provide your dog with supportive care.
Your veterinarian will run a variety of tests and if they suspect a stroke, they will likely order imaging tests. These tests are generally performed by a specialist and can be costly, but will provide more definitive information on your dog’s health.
The treatment plan for your dog after their stroke will depend greatly upon the type of stroke that your dog had as well as their current health.
What’s Old Dog Vestibular Disease?
A stroke should not be confused with another condition called “old dog vestibular disease.”
The signs of old dog vestibular disease are similar to the symptoms that you will see in a dog after a stroke, but the causes are not the same.
In a stroke, your dog’s symptoms are the result of a lack of blood flow to the brain. Symptoms result from this lack of blood flow because the affected area of the brain begins to die without the nutrients and oxygen that blood flow provides. The symptoms your dog experiences and the path of recovery for your dog will depend upon the area of the brain affected and the severity of the stroke as well as the underlying cause of stroke.
Symptoms result from this lack of blood flow because the affected area of the brain begins to die without the nutrients and oxygen that blood flow provides. The symptoms your dog experiences and the path of recovery for your dog will depend upon the area of the brain affected and the severity of the stroke as well as the underlying cause of stroke.
Unlike a stroke, old dog vestibular disease is rooted in the vestibular system.
The vestibular system is responsible for your dog’s sense of balance and is comprised of parts of the ear and brain.
Old dog vestibular disease is also called idiopathic vestibular disease because no one really knows why it happens. When it does happen, though, dogs tend to recover fully or only have mild symptoms that remain.
But why is old dog vestibular syndrome confused for a stroke so frequently? Because the symptoms are similar.
Dogs experiencing this syndrome will feel as though their world is spinning and their balance will be affected. These dogs may tilt their head, vomit, lose their balance, walk in a circle, and show other signs of disorientation and dizziness.
So, while the symptoms of this disease and stroke may be very similar, the causes and plan of treatment are quite different. Where a stroke is seen as a medical emergency, old dog vestibular disease is a common complaint and vets will most often take a “watch and wait” approach to treatment.
Take a look at this video of a dog experiencing old dog vestibular disease.
Regardless of whether you suspect a stroke or old dog vestibular syndrome, you should ALWAYS consult your veterinarian immediately to get a confirmed diagnosis. This will help to determine the plan of treatment that your dog needs to recover.