Would you know if your dog had a stroke? The symptoms are different than those for a human stroke. Over the course of writing Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog, I’ve shared two stories about dogs who have suffered a Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE) stroke. Ironically when I looked back at those posts, both are eerily similar.
The first story was about a sweet Italian Greyhound named Ricochet who was playing in his yard on March 29, 2014 when he suddenly fell to his side unable to move and gasping for air. And last month I wrote about little Mia who also ran outside in her backyard happy and healthy one minute and the next minute she had collapsed to the ground barely breathing. Strange set of circumstances….right? Or are they the warning signs pet parents should know?
Ricochet and Mia were very lucky their humans quickly realized each was having an extreme emergency and got them to a veterinary hospital immediately. Both dogs suffered from paralysis, but because they received medical care soon after their strokes, each dog has made a miraculous recovery.
Ricochet and Mia’s stories made me realize I should put in writing the signs and symptoms of a canine stroke.
Types of Canine Strokes
Before we talk symptoms I want to explain the three types of canine strokes:
- Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE) stroke – This type of stroke is caused by a small fragment of intervertebral disc material that becomes dislodged and is carried into the blood vessels of the spinal cord forming an embolism or obstruction. That portion of the spine dies and causes a stroke.
- Embolus or Blood Clot stroke – This is the most common form of stroke. It occurs when a blood clot develops in the circulatory system of the body and then breaks away and travels to the brain. The clot stops the blood flow in the area causing that part of the brain to die. These type of strokes are seem most often in dogs with Cushing’s disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and thyroid disease.
- Intracranial Hemorrhage stroke – This form of stroke happens because when a blood vessel in the brain suddenly ruptures and bleeds. It is seen most often after a head trauma or in dogs who suffer from a brain tumor, hypertension and lymphoma.
Symptoms of a Dog Stroke
Pet parents may see a variety of signs and symptoms immediately following a stroke and worsening problems if the stroke is left untreated. Here are some of the common signs:
- Walking in circles or turning the wrong way when called
- Head tilted to one side
- Difficulty with balance and standing
- Extreme lethargy
- Loss of control over bladder and bowels or vomiting
- Inability to move and paralysis
Worsening symptoms can include blindness, heart arrhythmia and collapse.
Strokes can be fatal in dogs, but when the cause is found and prompt treatment is given, there is a good chance for recovery. Puppies and elderly dogs are more prone to strokes, as well as dogs with flat faces such as Pugs and Bulldogs. The condition is also seen more commonly in dogs with these health problems:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Thyroid disease
- Cushing’s disease
- Brain tumors
- Poison and some parasites
- Rocky Mountain Fever
Making The Diagnosis
The best tools to determine a stroke are a CT scan or MRI. Once it has been determined that your dog has suffered a stroke your veterinarian will look for the cause using blood tests, an ultrasound or a spinal tap. Unfortunately, 50 percent of all canine strokes do not have a specific cause.
Strokes are an extremely serious condition for dogs, but with quick veterinary intervention the majority of dogs have a good outcome and make a full recovery. The best practice for dog owners is to know the warning signs and act fast, especially if your dog may be prone to the disorder.
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