We understand that finding out your cat has had a stroke can be upsetting. However, strokes in animals tend not to be as severe as strokes in people. With treatment, our Rock Hill vets may be able to help your cat recover and live a good quality of life.
What is a stroke?
While ‘stroke’ is a popular term, you may not fully understand exactly what a stroke is. A stroke is clinically referred to as a cerebrovascular accident. The brain depends on a constant blood supply to deliver oxygen, remove waste products and supply nutrients. When the blood flow to the brain is reduced, a stroke can occur.
What can cause strokes in cats?
Strokes are most commonly diagnosed in cats that are about nine years old and can happen due to an underlying illness such as cancer within or spreading to the brain, parasites, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism or heart disease. However, in many cases identifying a cause may prove impossible.
In cats, there are two different types of stroke and each has a different cause.
When an artery is damaged or bursts, this can lead to bleeding in a cat’s brain, which causes a hemorrhagic stroke. The bleeding results in blood pressing on the brain tissue, causing damage to that part of the brain.
Ischaemic stroke can occur when blood supply to the cat’s brain suddenly stops. This can happen as a result of underlying illnesses that cause an artery to narrow or become clogged.
What are symptoms of strokes in cats?
Symptoms of strokes in cats will typically occur very quickly and will be similar, regardless of whether your cat is having a hemorrhagic or ischaemic stroke. The size of the bleed or blockage, and how much of the surrounding brain tissue has been impacted will determine the severity of these symptoms.
If your cat is experiencing a stroke, you may notice one or more of these symptoms occurring suddenly:
- Unequal pupil sizes
- Muscle spasms
- Arched body
- Abnormal eye movements
- Falling and/or circling
- Head pressing
- Vision loss
- Loss of balance
- Head turning or tilting
While these symptoms often indicate that a cat may be having a stroke, they can also be associated with other neurological diseases. It can be challenging to decide whether to start or continue treatment after a cat has experienced a stroke.
Generally, most vets believe that cats who are otherwise relatively healthy and display less severe symptoms or stroke have the best chance at recovery. Unfortunately, not enough research has been completed into the prognosis for cats following strokes.
Keep in mind that symptoms will be at their worst approximately 24 hours after the stroke has occurred.
How are strokes in cats diagnosed?
Your vet will perform a thorough physical examination and ask questions about what symptoms your cat has been displaying, how quickly they came on, and whether they’ve changed over time. If he or she suspects that your cat may have had a stroke, diagnostic testing will be recommended so a diagnosis can be confirmed.
Diagnostic tests such as fecal exams, urinalysis and blood tests can help rule out other possible causes. Your vet can use diagnostic imaging (CT scans and MRI) to detect abnormalities in the brain.
Which treatments are available for cats that have had strokes?
Many supportive therapies are available to help your cat cope with, and recover from, symptoms of a stroke. Many cats recover well with these therapies:
- Treatment of underlying conditions that may have led to the stroke
- Oxygen therapy to promote healing of brain tissue
- Seizure medications to help control seizures or decrease pressure in the skull
- Physical rehabilitation (physiotherapy for cats) to help address neurological deficits
- Improvements to diet, nutrition or hydration
- Assistance with comfort and cleanliness regarding litter box use
What is a veterinary neurologist?
Our veterinary neurologists have each graduated with a doctorate in veterinary medicine. They have also completed additional training in veterinary neurology and neurosurgery.
If your cat is diagnosed with a neurological condition such as a stroke, your primary care veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary neurologist to receive more advanced treatment or diagnostics.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.