What Are The Symptoms Of A Stroke In Dogs?

Knowing the signs can help save your pup's life.

signs of stroke in dogs

Strokes don’t seem to happen as often in dogs as they do in humans, but your pup can still have one.

That might sound scary, but in most cases, dogs can recover if they get treatment quickly, which is why it’s crucial for pet parents to know what the symptoms of a stroke are.

Victoria DiMegilio, a registered veterinary nurse with DodoVet, told us all about dog stroke symptoms so you’ll know what to look for, plus the causes of and treatments for strokes.

Dog stroke symptoms

The symptoms of a stroke in dogs differ depending on which part of the brain is affected. Signs usually have a fast onset, so you might notice symptoms in your dog suddenly.

If you notice any of these symptoms, take your pup to the vet right away:

  • Inability to walk
  • Lack of coordination
  • Loss of balance
  • Head tilt
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Incontinence
  • Weakness or paralysis of legs
  • Collapse
  • Circling

These can sometimes be signs of other illnesses, such as problems with the vestibular system (inner ear and brain), so it may not always be a stroke. But in case it is, it’s important to get your pup to the vet, since quick treatment usually leads to a better outcome.

What happens when a dog has a stroke?

According to DiMegilio, a stroke occurs when something causes a lack of blood supply to the brain.

There are two types of strokes: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke, DiMegilio added. An ischemic stroke happens when a blood vessel that supplies the brain gets blocked. The blockages are usually blood clots, but other things, like tumors, can also cause them. Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by bleeding in the brain from a ruptured blood vessel.

“While ischemic strokes are more common, hemorrhagic [strokes] have a much higher rate of mortality,” DiMegilio told The Dodo.

Both types of strokes reduce the oxygen that gets to the brain, which can cause brain damage.

What causes strokes in dogs?

It’s not always clear what causes a stroke in a dog, but some dogs can be at greater risk, especially if they have other medical conditions, DiMegilio said.

Some common health problems that put dogs at risk for strokes include:

How are strokes diagnosed?

“Diagnosis is made by advanced imaging (CT scan or MRI) of the brain to determine the extent of the brain [damage] and distinguish the type of stroke,” DiMegilio said.

Your vet might perform tests, such as blood and urine tests, to determine if your pup has an underlying condition that could have caused the stroke. They might also look at your dog’s heart function (with an electrocardiogram or ultrasound) to check for heart disease.

What is the treatment for a stroke in dogs?

While there’s no treatment specifically for a stroke, your vet will determine the cause of the stroke and provide treatment for it. “Any underlying disease process that has influenced or caused the stroke also needs to be identified before treatment can proceed,” DiMegilio said.

To immediately help a dog who’s having a stroke, blood thinners may be given for clots, and your dog might need oxygen and fluids. Sometimes vets will perform surgery to remove a blood clot. Another possible treatment is blood pressure medication for dogs with hypertension.

Neurologic symptoms, like paralysis or lack of coordination, will usually get better on their own over time once the underlying problem (clot, brain bleeding, etc.) is treated. If your dog is still experiencing weakness or having trouble walking, your vet might recommend physical therapy.

Can a dog recover from a stroke?

The good news is that dogs usually recover from strokes. Some dogs might not get fully back to normal, while other dogs can start to get better within a few weeks.

Whether a dog has lasting damage or not depends on a few factors. “The chance of lasting effects for both types of stroke depends on the severity of the [brain damage], the initial response time and supportive care, and the severity of any underlying disease processes,” DiMegilio said.

The severity of the brain damage depends on the amount of time it went without blood flow and oxygen, which is why it’s so important to get treatment as quickly as possible.

Seeing any of these stroke symptoms in your dog can be super scary, but the best thing you can do is take him to the vet right away. The sooner you get treatment, the more likely you are to have a better outcome!

Want access to a vet 24/7? With DodoVet, you can connect via video chat, phone or text with an empathetic veterinary expert who can help you be the best pet parent you can be. Say goodbye to Dr. Google and have all your pet parent questions answered anytime, anywhere. Learn more here.