When we refer to a Stroke in dogs, this is not actually the same as what we understand as a stroke in humans – its just a kind of shorthand that vets sometimes use to help us understand. In actual fact, it is Vestibular Syndrome, which is caused by damage to the inner ear or the brain which leads to very characteristic symptoms, especially in older dogs (known as Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome). The symptoms do, however, usually begin to ease over a couple of days.
To diagnose the problem in dogs over 10 years of age, the vet will usually check your dog’s ears to make sure there is no obvious disease which could account for the problem. He may run some blood tests, a urine analysis or perhaps even a CT scan if your surgery is hi-tech enough to offer such investigations.
Symptoms to look for:
Lack of co-ordination
Rapid eye movements
In more severe cases, vestibular syndrome can also cause the dog to fall over, roll or even circle continuously. Because each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, the circling and falling over will always occur in the same direction and will mirror the side of the brain which has been damaged.
In the initial days of the “stroke”, care and patience will be needed to keep the dog from bumping into things or hurting himself if he falls or rolls over – confining him to a single room or crate with no obstacles in is often the kindest action until his condition improves. It might be necessary to feed by hand and also to support his weight as he goes out to toilet – often the use of a blanket as a sling to help him stand is all that is required, and of course the opportunity to go out with your help, say 4 or 5 times a day.
Improvement can be expected in pretty much all cases but occasionally, the head tilt may remain permanently. Other than drugs to easy the initial nausea, no treatment really seems to be particularly effective and the condition usually improves by itself in 2-4 weeks.