Seeing your dog go through a stroke or a seizure can be pretty scary, not least because your canine friend can't speak to you and let you know what he's feeling. Learn the symptoms and appropriate responses for both seizures and strokes so you can help your pooch if needed.
Seizures and strokes have different root causes in dogs, as they do in humans. A seizure is the result of electrical malfunction in the brain, when an electrical storm in the brain causes seizure symptoms. If your dog has repeated seizures over time, your veterinarian might diagnose canine epilepsy. Epilepsy can have a genetic basis, or can result from injury to the brain or chemical imbalance. Seizures also can be caused by strokes, although the root cause of a stroke is physical rather than electrical. A stroke is caused when an artery becomes blocked, or bleeding occurs within the brain.
Some of the visible symptoms of a dog having a stroke are also symptoms of a seizure. Perhaps the most obvious symptoms of a stroke are problems with balance and movement. You might see your dog tilting his head to one side, or having trouble walking. If one side of the brain is damaged by a stroke, your dog might walk in circles while leaning toward the damaged side of the brain. After a stroke, your dog might have problems with bowel and bladder control. Incontinence is a symptom of a seizure in progress, but is unlikely to be a continuing problem after a seizure has ended. Other seizure symptoms include falling over, shaking and having rigid, jerking convulsions in part or all of the body. Your dog's eyes might roll back during a seizure, and consciousness might be lost for a period of time.
Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet. If you suspect your dog is having a stroke, get immediate veterinary assistance. Strokes are relatively unusual in dogs, and the recovery chance increases if the dog survives and starts to recover in the days following the stroke. In the case of a seizure, you can help prevent further injury to your dog by clearing away any furniture or obstacles in the vicinity of your dog. Move the seizing dog away from hazards such as open fire or swimming pools, but otherwise leave the dog where he falls. Put soft pillows or blankets around his head and back, and keep other pets away. When the dog regains consciousness, give him a quiet space to rest and recover.
A one-off seizure might not require any specific treatment. If your dog is experiencing regular epileptic seizures, however, your veterinarian might prescribe anti-seizure medications. You can help prevent further seizures by giving your dog a regular schedule for eating and sleeping, and not allowing the dog to jump on and off surfaces such as couches; in small breeds with tendencies toward back problems, a back or neck injury can precipitate a seizure. If your dog has had a stroke, your vet will try to determine the cause before prescribing treatment. If the stroke involved swelling of the brain, corticosteroids are commonly prescribed to reduce swelling. Dogs can recover well from strokes, often within only a few weeks. However, some permanent damage or changes can remain.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Jae Allen has been a writer since 1999, with articles published in "The Hub," "Innocent Words" and "Rhythm." She has worked as a medical writer, paralegal, veterinary assistant, stage manager, session musician, ghostwriter and university professor. Allen specializes in travel, health/fitness, animals and other topics.