Spinal stroke in dogs

Updated February 21, 2017

Strokes, which occur in the brain, can affect the spinal column of dogs. Dogs can recover from such strokes. Even those that do not fully recover can go on to enjoy many more years of life after the stroke. An owner who remains optimistic and gives his dog the post-stroke care that it needs can expect to continue to enjoy the company of his pet.


A veterinarian must perform advanced diagnostic testing to determine the cause of a dog's stroke. Strokes in dogs may occur because of injury, poisoning, parasites, illness or disease. Some dogs and breeds may have a genetic predisposition to strokes.

There are two types of strokes: ischemic strokes and hemorrhagic strokes. Blood flow to the brain stops during an ischemic stroke, while a bursting or leaking blood vessel can cause a hemorrhagic stroke. Either of these types of strokes can affect a dog's spinal column or spinal cord.


If a dog owner sees any of the following symptoms in her dog, she should consult with a veterinarian to determine whether the dog has suffered a stroke: tilting head, seizures, lethargy, sight loss, confusion, favouring one side of the food or water bowl, moving in circles, loss of balance, falling over, change in behaviour, or bladder or bowel control problems.


A veterinarian can diagnose a stroke in a dog that has affected its spinal column or spinal cord by performing blood and urine tests to rule out other possible causes of the dog's behaviour. The vet can then anaesthetise the dog and do either a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam or a computed tomography (CT) scan of the dog's brain and spine to determine whether the dog has suffered a stroke.


An owner can wait to see how his dog recovers after a stroke before embarking on any type of treatment. Many dogs recover within a few weeks, and can return to their previous lives with little change.

The owner should ensure his dog receives plenty of exercise and good food after a stroke. The owner can avoid additional brain or spinal damage if the vet can tell him what may have caused the dog's stroke--disease or injury, for instance--and how to manage the dog's diet and lifestyle to avoid further strokes or damage.

Researchers have begun to test a new drug, polythene glycol (PEG), which may help protect nerve endings in the spinal cord and prevent additional damage to the dog's spinal cord. And some enterprising dog owners have rigged up various devices to help even paralysed dogs to walk, run and play.


If the vet diagnoses a disease, such as kidney or heart disease, she may prescribe a low-phosphorus or low-fat diet. Some breeds of dogs, notably dachshunds, seem to gain weight as they age, and that, together with their build, makes them more prone to strokes that affect their spine. Owners should monitor their diet and ensure that they receive plenty of exercise. Diabetes can cause strokes in dogs, so a dog with diabetes must receive insulin shots to prevent strokes or other diabetes-related illnesses.

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About the Author

Laurie Rappeport is a writer and blogger with more than 10 years of experience. Her areas of expertise are in education, child development, travel, pets, nutrition and health for Demand Studios and a major travel website. Rappeport holds a Master of Arts degree from Wayne State University.