Strokes in cats are becoming increasingly recognised; the availability of specialised tests contributes to the increase in diagnoses, but pet owners are also becoming more vigilant as they begin to be aware of the problem. Strokes in cats are not usually as serious as in humans, so pet owners shouldn't immediately panic. However, a suspected stroke always requires an urgent veterinary visit.
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What is a Stroke?
A cat's brain requires a healthy supply of blood to deliver vital nutrients and oxygen. Any interruption of this blood supply results in either a disruption to brain function or in death of part of the brain. "Cerebrovascular accident" is another name for a stroke. Strokes fall into two types: hemorrhagic stroke, caused by a bleeding in the brain; and ischemic stroke, involving temporary interruption of the blood supply, caused by the narrowing of an artery (thrombosis), or by the clogging of the artery by material travelling from elsewhere (embolism).
The most common symptoms are a head tilt, seizures, balance loss, partial paralysis, loss of sight and walking in circles. A cat may lose his appetite or be quiet or disoriented. Some of these signs also occur in other disorders, so thorough tests are essential.
Extensive neurology tests, which may need referral to a pet neurology centre, will be necessary although a veterinarian can often make a tentative diagnosis based on visual signs. Necessary brain scans may comprise computed tomography or CAT scans and magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRI). Standard X-rays are ineffective. A general anesthetic may be necessary as the cat must lie still for scanning. The vet may also take a spinal fluid extraction with the cat under sedation, allowing him to check for other diseases with similar signs. Diagnosis, therefore, requires a combination approach of pinpointing stroke identifiers and ruling out other causes which mimic a stroke, such as inflammatory brain diseases, haemorrhages or the presence of a cyst or tumour.
Treatment for Stroke in Cats
Owners are often worried to hear there is no specific treatment for stroke in cats. A cat may need intensive nursing involving intravenous fluids, anti-inflammatory drugs and oxygen therapy and a stay at the veterinary practice, but following this you can nurse him at home. You simply need to keep the animal quiet and warm, and to give fluids and feedings by oral syringing. It is often a case of "waiting it out," allowing for natural recovery. Veterinary efforts are generally concentrated in the direction of trying to work out what caused the stroke and in preventing a recurrence.
Although the immediate signs of a stroke are distressing, a high proportion of cats go on to have a good quality of life with minimal impairment; it is important not to panic and immediately opt for euthanasia. However, a few do not recover, usually in cases where there has been tissue death in a critical area of the brain; only time will tell what the individual prognosis may be.
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