Strokes in dogs are less common than they are in people, but when one strikes the condition is equally as serious as a human stroke. There are three major forms of canine strokes, and it is important for pet owners to be aware of their causes and warning signs so they will know what to do if their dog has a stroke.

The two most common forms of canine strokes occur when an artery in the brain becomes blocked and cuts off oxygen to the area or when blood vessels in the brain rupture and hemorrhage. Both of these are serious conditions that need immediate treatment. These strokes are called cerebrovascular accidents (CVA) or transient ischemic attacks (TIA).

The third type of stroke seen in dogs is called a fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE). It happens after a small piece of disc material inside the back breaks off and drifts into the spinal cord. This type of stroke happens very quickly when a dog is playing, jumping, or running.

Dog owners may see a variety of signs immediately following a stroke, but some are subtle and hard to notice if you don’t know what to look for. To make matters worse, there are typically no signs warning that a stroke is going to happen. After a stroke occurs, problems can worsen in a short period of time if the stroke is left untreated.

Here are some common signs of a canine stroke:

  • 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

Worsening symptoms can include loss of eyesight, heart arrhythmia, and the dog could also collapse.

What you should do
If you suspect your dog has had a stroke, look inside her mouth for dark red gums or check her inner eyelids to see if they are dark red. This may indicate a decrease in oxygen to the body. If there is any suspicion of a stroke, it is important that you take your dog to a veterinarian immediately.

Strokes can be fatal in dogs, but the good news is that, when the cause is found and prompt treatment is given, dogs have a greater chance for a full recovery than humans, even if the stroke is severe.

Elderly dogs are more prone to strokes, but the condition is seen most often in dogs with these health problems:

  • Head injury
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Brain tumors
  • Poison and some parasites
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Making the diagnosis
The best tools to determine if your dog has had a stroke are a CT scan or MRI. About 50 percent of all canine strokes do not have a specific cause.

While canine strokes can be extremely serious, the majority of dogs have a good outcome, especially when they receive quick veterinary intervention. The best practice for dog owners is to know the warning signs, be aware of the factors that make some dogs more prone to stroke, and act fast if they suspect their dog is having, or has had, a stroke.

Sharon Seltzer is the founder of Lessons from a Paralyzed Dog, a website for dogs with strokes and other neurological or mobility problems. 

Comments (7) -

June Molina
June MolinaUnited States
8/27/2015 11:13:10 AM #

excellent info, very helpful

Hal S. Pope
Hal S. PopeUnited States
12/25/2015 9:55:03 PM #

Thank you for providing this valuable information. My 14 year old Boston Terrier had a stroke 2 days before Christmas.
I brought her home from the vet early Christmas morning. She is walking. I am a happy guy.

LindaUnited States
1/16/2016 3:40:03 PM #

Two day ago our dog was fine. We let him out side where he goes does about a dozen steps to get to the ground. When he came back in he could not use either right leg effectively. Both legs are weak causing him to not be able yo stand for very long, lean to ine side, and very sad. His tail stays between his legs and his head leans to the right. We thought he took a fall and brought him to the vet. This heard what happened and probed his legs, shoulders and neck. There us a spot on the right side of his neck that made him growl. The vet believes Griffie fell and injured hus neck causing inflamation to nerves which causes his legs to not work right. We have meds to treat that. This is very heartbreaking. My hub and I began wondering if he could have had a stroke, so here we are. I do wish you had pics of the shade of red in the eyelids/mouth to compare. His lower lids are not "dark" red but more of a dark pink. He wont open his mouth. Its been two days so far and the vet said Griffie should be doing better in 3-4 days. Poor baby cannot hold his body right to do his business.

KristyUnited States
2/6/2016 6:50:27 PM #

This message is for Linda. My dog a 10 yr old lab has the exact same symptoms. Being the weekend I made a call to the vet they said it sounds like a stroke and to give him baby aspirin for a couple days. Said he should be back to normal soon although some dogs have lingering side effects. I'm going to call on Monday and have him seen because everything I've read says he should be seen right away so I'm a little worried they didn't have me bring him in. What's the status on your pup?? Is he feeling better??

Jeff Semancik
Jeff SemancikUnited States
2/14/2016 4:08:48 PM #

hey Folks, got a question for, you, we have an 11 year old female German Shepard and, we;re not sure if she's had a stroke or whats going on with her, this all started a couple of days ago,,,,here s whats she s doing, she's breathing very heavy, she was eating food  and drinking water fine, however this morning, all of a sudden she couldn't get enough water, so much in fact that she actually went to the toilet lifted up the lid with her nose  and started drinking out of it, which she never did before ,, now she doesn't want to eat or drink ,,, and this afternoon when my sister took her out for a walk, she vomited with some blood, then she would walk a few minutes, then suddenly just lay down, and when she laid down  it was like she was in another world, she wouldn't respond to nobody calling her,,,,and usually she's perky and full of life , could this also be pneumonia ? we're afraid that we may be losing her,,,, if anybody has any thoughts , please give me a yell back , Thank You,,,, Jeff

JimUnited States
3/1/2016 10:00:39 PM #

I thought this article was going to tell us what to do in the event they it does happen... Instead it states he obvious. Bring them to a vet. By reading this I thought i'd be learning what to do if there isn't enough time to get to a vet. My dog had a heart attack and in that time I couldn't get her to a vet, she died. People should know what to do, because you do r have 15 minutes to get them to a hospital, you have ten seconds to react.

susan bidinger
susan bidingerUnited States
3/21/2016 2:24:38 PM #

My 16yr old Sudy died 3/19/16 from what the vet suspects as a stroke (I talked to my normal vet today).  but her clot was not in the brain, it was in one of her major organs. I took her to the vet after when i got home Fri from work cuz she had vomited and was lethargic.  she was not my normal vet and said she think she had a seizure, but I know how dogs act after those from past experience.  So we went home and she was gone within 10 hrs.  I am devastated because Sudy was very healthy for her age.  

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