Stroke In Dogs: Why Prevention is Key!

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / May 13, 2018
stroke in dogs

Ever wonder what a stroke in dogs looks like?  Or if dogs even get strokes?

A stroke is a cerebrovascular event that occurs as a result of comprised blood supply to certain parts of the brain and spinal cord. When this occurs, the brain tissue will slowly begin to die, as a result of oxygen and nutrient deprivation. This means that stroke in dogs can cause severe to permanent brain damage. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about stroke in dogs.

dog having a heart attack

What is a Stroke in Dogs

Every year, strokes kill thousands of humans worldwide. So, strokes are quite common among humans, however, they’re not too prevalent in dogs.  A stroke is often termed as a cerebrovascular vascular accident, and this denotes the concept that it is a disease of the brain.

The brain of an animal is perhaps the most vital organ in the body. Without a consistent supply of oxygen and nutrients, the brain will suffer tremendously. When blood flow, within a blood vessel, is compromised, this can lead to a pet having an increased risk of stroke.

In general, there are two types of stroke in dogs—Ischaemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. An ischaemic stroke occurs as a result of either a lack of oxygen or a lack of nutrients. While a hemorrhagic stroke occurs as a result of hemorrhaging in the brain.

What Causes a Stroke in Dogs

Stoke in dogs can have various causes. An ischaemic stroke, for example, may occur as a result of either a thrombosis or an embolus. A thrombotic stroke simply means that blood flow and blood pressure have been compromised as a result of a blood clot formation. An embolic stroke would mean that mass is freely floating in your blood circulation, away from your brain. An embolic stroke implies that this freely circulating mass could be a mobile blood clot or debris such as fat. Hemorrhagic strokes tend to occur when the body’s ability to form blood clots is impaired.

In general, stroke in dogs can be caused by the following diseases:

  • Accidental consumption of rodent poisons
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Cushings disease
  • Vasculitis
  • Brain tumor
  • Parasitic infections (i.e. Lungworm infections)
  • Protein-losing nephropathy
  • High blood pressure
  • Congenital clogging disease

Stroke In Dogs— Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion In Dogs

exhausted dog

Another form of stroke in dogs tends to occur as a result of hyperthermia. Now, hyperthermia is a term not to be confused with hypothermia. Hyperthermia occurs when a dog has elevated body temperature. For example, the core rectal temperature of a dog is 37.6 to about 39.3°C, if the core temperature surpasses this range, then the dog is experiencing hyperthermia.

One of the most common strokes in dogs is heat stroke. Now, it’s important to remember that any dog has the potential to develop a heat stroke. However, heat stroke in dogs may be a lot more common in brachycephalic breeds such as pugs, bulldogs, and Chihuahuas.

6 Tips for Preventing Heat Stroke In Dogs

Heat stroke in dogs is easily preventable! All you have to do is be aware of your dog’s breed, genetic predispositions, and the environment. Here are tips when it comes to preventing heat stroke in dogs!

  1.  If it’s a fairly hot day, keep your dog’s exercise routine short and sweet! It’s important to remember that brachycephalic breeds, and even long-haired dogs are more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion.
  2. Both dogs and cats can get heat stroke! The best way to prevent this from occurring is to provide plenty of cold water and a cooling pad for pets during the summer.
  3. Never leave a pet alone in a hot car! This is the number one reason that causes heat stroke in dogs. Leaving a dog alone in a car can cause the animal to pant excessively, leading to increased temperature and eventually death.
  4. Keep your pet well hydrated during summer! On average, a dog will consume 1.5 to 3 liters of water per day.
  5. If you’ve got a long-haired dog or a dog that’s prone to heat exhaustion, then consider wetting down their fur with cold water. This will keep them cool during those peak summer months!
  6. Do not leave your dog alone in a backyard chained or in a kennel. During the hot summer months, it’s important to make sure your dog has plenty of shaded areas, free access to water, shaded areas, and soft ground.

Dog Stroke Symptoms

heat stroke symptoms

Both dogs and cats tend to demonstrate similar clinical signs of stroke. Unlike humans, dogs and cats won’t show classic stroke-like symptoms like facial paralysis.

Canine stroke can cause a range of symptoms, in general, the signs of stroke in dogs will often correlate to the location at which blood and oxygen deprivation has occurred.  Nevertheless, some common clinical signs of stroke in dogs include:

  • Blindness
  • Vision loss
  • Ataxia
  • Head tilt
  • Lethargy
  • Your dog may begin to walk in circles
  • Changes in bowel and bladder habits—potentially unable to control urination and defecation
  • Memory loss

Stroke In Dogs Vs Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome

Ever hear the phrase, “don’t consult Dr.Google”? Well, the reason this phrase has gained quite a popularity amongst medical professionals is that people often google up their dog’s symptoms, mistaking a few common symptoms with a disease their pet may not even have! One classic example of such a case is stroke in dogs vs canine idiopathic vestibular disease.

Vestibular syndrome in dogs is a disease that affects dogs vestibular—aka balance system! This disease is most commonly seen in older dogs, and it tends to cause symptoms that might appear as clinical signs of a stroke. For instance, some of the classic clinical signs of vestibular disease in dogs include:

  • Loss of balance
  • Ataxia
  • Nystagmus (eye-jerking)
  • An inability to stand or walk properly, and
  • Disorientation

Now, don’t these clinical signs seem exactly like the clinical signs of stroke in dogs? Yes! They do! But, they’re two completely separate diseases with two completely separate causes. Vestibular syndrome can be caused by something as minor as a middle or inner ear infection, to something as severe as tumors or trauma to the ear. Regardless, this is a disease that is often diagnosed based on the dog’s age, history, and blood chemistry or urine tests.

Oftentimes, pet owners mistake stroke in dogs for vestibular syndrome, or vice versa!

Treatment for Stroke in Dogs

dog brain

Unfortunately, when it comes to stroke in dogs, there are no known definite treatment veterinarians can take immediately. This is primarily because, damage to the brain—whereby oxygen and nutrients are deprived—often leads to permanent or extensive, irreversible damage.

What Do I Do If My Dog Is Having A Stroke?

Fortunately, stroke in dogs is rare! But, when it does happen you want to be prepared! If you notice the classic signs of stroke in dogs, such as head tilting, an inability to stand, vomiting, and sudden blindness, then call your nearest emergency veterinarian ASAP.

5 Facts You Need To Know About Stroke In Dogs

  1. If caught early, heat stroke can be stabilized! During the initial phase of treatment, your veterinarian will stabilize your dog’s body temperature through the use of intravenous fluids and cooling pads.
  2. Not sure if your dog has had a stroke? Veterinarians will often suggest using imaging machines to view your dog’s brain. The most common imaging scans used include computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  3. Dog’s who’ve experienced stroke in the past and survived can still experience a stroke again!
  4. Vestibular syndrome is commonly mistaken or misdiagnosed as stroke in dogs
  5. Whether your dog has had a stroke or has vestibular syndrome, treatment for the disease often involves supportive care.

happy healthy dog

Stroke in dogs is a dangerous condition that can cause severe brain damage and even death. For those lucky pets who recover from a stroke, it’s important to remember that they still are at risk of developing and experiencing another episode of stroke. Generally, the management and treatment of stroke in dogs will be specific to the cause of the stroke. This is why it is vital that you talk to your veterinarian about stroke in dogs, and if your dog may be a high-risk breed!

Do you have a question about stroke in dogs? What about heat stroke in dog? Let us know in the comments below!


What is the best dog stroke treatment at home?

What can you tell me about dog stroke recovery?

What is the underlying reason behind a stroke in dogs?


I’m worried my dog’s had a stroke, how would I know?

Preventing Heat Stroke In Dogs

About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for