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Can a Dog Recover From a Stroke? Out Vet Explains Post Care & Rehab

Dr. Sharon Butzke, DVM (Vet)

By Dr. Sharon Butzke, DVM (Vet)

Sick French Bulldog

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Dr. Sharon Butzke

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Stroke is the term used to describe a sudden onset of neurologic symptoms caused by a cerebrovascular accident (CVA). CVAs occur when blood supply to all or part of the brain becomes significantly reduced or stops completely. Without enough oxygen and glucose, brain cells quickly start to lose function. If sufficient blood flow is not restored in a timely manner, permanent neurologic damage may result.

Strokes are not thought to occur as commonly in dogs as they do in people, but the condition is becoming more recognized due to greater access to advanced imaging.

Fortunately, dogs who experience strokes tend to have a better prognosis than people. Given time and proper care, most dogs who start out with limited clinical signs can fully recover, or at least improve to a point that allows them to maintain a good quality of life.

Exceptions to this include cases where the entire brain has been affected, dogs with numerous or severe symptoms, and patients whose lingering effects from a stroke negatively impact their quality of life.

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What Causes Strokes in Dogs?

Strokes can generally be attributed to one of two things:
  • Ischemia: reduced or complete lack of blood flow to all or part of the brain, due to a physical blockage inside a blood vessel (e.g., blood clot, piece of tissue, or fat)
  • Hemorrhage: bleeding in the brain caused by a ruptured blood vessel (e.g., due to high blood pressure, a clotting disorder, or head trauma)

There is currently limited data available about how often strokes occur in dogs and what causes them, partly because the cause is not identified in an estimated 50% of cases.

In Dr. Melissa Logan’s experience as a veterinary neurologist, ischemia seems to be more common than hemorrhage.

Many affected dogs are older and have one or more medical conditions, which may have predisposed them to stroke.

Conditions that can predispose a dog into having a stroke:
  • Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood)
  • Heartworm infection
  • Heart disease
  • Sepsis (blood infection)
  • Cancer

Certain breeds also seem to be more prone to strokes—for example, Greyhounds, Miniature Schnauzers, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

sick australian shepherd dog lying on grass
Image By: EvitaS, Pixabay

What Are the Signs of Stroke in Dogs?

The exact signs of stroke depend on the part(s) of the brain affected, but may include:
  • Collapse
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Head tilted to one side
  • Walking in circles
  • Nystagmus (abnormal eye movement)
  • Disorientation
  • Stumbling or falling
  • Seizures
  • Behavior changes

If your dog is showing any of these signs, please seek veterinary attention right away.

It is important to note that stroke symptoms typically do not get worse once they are present. If your dog’s condition continues to deteriorate, something other than a stroke may be to blame.

How Are Strokes Diagnosed in Dogs?

Symptoms of stroke can be very similar to those of other neurologic disorders. The specific signs shown by each patient are mostly helpful in identifying where the problem has occurred in the brain, rather than what caused the problem.

Complete diagnostic work-up for a suspected stroke can be very involved, and often requires referral to a veterinary neurologist.

In addition to a thorough physical and neurologic examination, your veterinarian may recommend:
  • Blood pressure measurement
  • Bloodwork including a complete blood count (CBC), serum chemistry, thyroid panel, and possibly a clotting profile
  • Urine testing
  • Parasite testing
  • Radiographs (x-rays) of the chest and ultrasound of the abdomen to screen for cancer and other medical conditions
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis
  • Advanced imaging (e.g., CT or MRI scan)

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Can Strokes in Dogs Be Treated?

There is no specific treatment for strokes in dogs. The goal is to provide supportive care and address any underlying medical conditions that may have led to the stroke.

Thrombolytic drugs (sometimes referred to as “clot-busters”) are often used in human medicine but are not currently thought to be helpful for canine strokes. Please do not give your dog any medication (e.g., aspirin) without consulting a veterinarian.

Dogs with mild symptoms may be able to recover at home, but those needing intense nursing care (particularly dogs with limited mobility) will benefit from hospitalization initially. Physiotherapy and other forms of physical rehabilitation can be very helpful. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a certified canine rehab specialist in in your area.

Healing from a stroke takes time and lots of TLC, but fortunately, in many cases, your pup will be able to recover and get on with their happy life.

Featured Image Credit: Mylene2401, Pixabay

Dr. Sharon Butzke, DVM (Vet)

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Dr. Sharon (as she is known by her clients) has had an intense love for animals for as long as she can remember. She grew up in Guelph, Ontario and fulfilled her childhood dream by obtaining her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from the Ontario Veterinary College in 2009. She has since found joy working in a variety of small animal clinics, focusing on cat and dog care. She loves sharing her expertise and empowe...Read more

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