Strokes in dogs are not common, but contrary to a lot of misconception, they can and do occur. However, they are much different than in humans in several ways.
In humans, one side of the face will suddenly start to droop, or one side of the body becomes partially or totally paralyzed.
This does not happen with dogs; instead they will develop a very sudden head tilt, start to circle and then fall, or lose control of their legs.
In some cases they may also go temporarily blind or show very frightening eye problems.
Another major difference with strokes in dogs is that in numerous cases they may recover partially, if not fully, over time.
However, there are all occasions where they will suffer permanent neurological damage.
But there are more differences with stokes in dogs. With people, a stroke is the very sudden death of brain cells in a localized area as the result of a loss of blood flow to that area.
When the supply of oxygen and nutrients that are carries by the blood supply is slowed or stopped, the brain cells die very quickly.
This can happen to your dog, but it is extremely rare.
What occurs in your dog is much different.
Strokes in dogs have two major causes: FCE, which is called fiberocartilagenous emboli myelopathy, and Old Dog vestibular disease.
FCE is a condition that will strike your dog very suddenly.
In fact, you will have almost no warning at all until it hits and you start to see the symptoms.
It is a condition that involves necrosis, which is the death
of cells, but it affects a region of their spinal cord in the neck.
It will also, in most cases, affect their front and back legs that are secondary to the actual obstruction.
The obstruction itself is the result of fibrous-cartilages that come loose from the inter-vertebral disk.
The fibrous-cartilage is the material located between the bones in the spinal column that act as shock absorbing agents.
The exact cause of FCE is still virtually unknown in the medical community, as it is not fully understood exactly how this material gets in to your dog’s bloodstream.
But what is known, is how it affects your dog. If the obstructed portion of the spinal cord is in your dogs neck, it will affect both the front as well the hind legs.
If the obstruction is in the spinal cord that is behind their front legs, it then affects only the rear legs.
It is very similar to human strokes in the sense that if may affect one side of their body more severely than the other side, but the difference is that it affects both sides to some degree.
This form of a stroke affects primarily giant and large breeds, but is also affects Shetland sheepdogs, Miniature Schnauzers and Labrador retrievers.
It also seems to attack dogs between the ages of 3 to 6 years old the hardest, and does favor males slightly more than females.
Old dog vestibular disease gets its name because it primarily affects older dogs over 10 years of age, but with this condition, there is no breed preference.
There are two causes of this condition; central vestibular disease and peripheral vestibular disease.
The vestibular system in your dog has the major responsibility of keeping their head and body in correct balance and as a result keeps your dog orientated in respect to gravity.
This system alerts their brain when they are sitting in place, lying down, falling, or spinning, and this action keeps them balanced.
It is comprised of nerves that start in the brain and continue into their ears.
The major cause of strokes in dogs is usually a tumor in the brain or a severe inflammation of the vestibular nerves.
Central vestibular strokes occur as the result an abnormality in the brain due to a tumor, which is what usually stops the flow of blood.
Peripheral vestibular strokes occur with the inflammation of the nerves in the inner ear.
Strokes in dogs will have very distinctive symptoms depending of which type has occurred.
With FCE, the symptoms and the degree of neurological damage can range from mild to severe and may include a complete paralysis of one or more of your pet’s legs.
The first symptom will be a sudden lack of coordination that is very quickly followed by either lameness or a complete dragging of the legs.
As it increases in severity, your dog may lose their ability to walk at all as they are becoming paralyzed.
The symptoms may increase over the first 18 to 24 hours, but after that time frame it usually does not get any worse.
Old dog vestibular disease will show you an entire different set of symptoms that will all have to do with gravity in some way.
The first signs will be a very sudden loss of balance and your dog will usually fall to the side that has been hit the hardest.
They may also start to roll or circle to one side until they fall down.
But there is one symptom that you will never forget when you first see it in your dog; nystagmus, which is a very sudden and abnormal, set of eye movements.
At first it will look like your dog is almost drunk in appearance, but it can also look like they are possessed as this is a very scary situation the first time you witness it.
But there is some good news with this form of strokes in dogs, and that is most all of these symptoms will dissipate within 2 to 3 days and most dogs will showed remarkable improvements.
However, if it is a tumor and the blood supply has been restricted, they may never return to normal.
Diagnosis and treatment:
Strokes in dogs can be very difficult to actually diagnose.
Your veterinarian will most likely want to complete a complete physical of your dog and then follow this with a CT scan or an MRI.
CT scans, which are computed technology, as well as an MRI, magnetic resonance imaging, will help them view your pets brain as well as their spinal cord to look for possible obstructions as they seldom will show up on an x-ray.
A sample of spinal fluid may also be taken from your dog to test for any infections that may cause inflammation and are simulating stroke conditions.
Blood tests will also be done to test for disease such as diabetes.
Strokes in dogs can and do occur, and there are no known treatments other than nursing your dog back very slowly.
However, there are some herbal treatments that can help in possibly preventing any future strokes, especially if your dog falls into the grouping of potential candidates.
Passionflower is a natural herb that is very effective in helping your dog’s nervous system and adding a teaspoon in powder form into your dog’s food may help prevent any future attacks.
It has been used extensively for years in both the United States as well as Europe in calming the nervous system of dogs, and it may prevent strokes from reoccurring.