Signs Your Cat May Have Had a Stroke

Learning that your cat has had a stroke can be a distressing revelation. However, animals tend not to suffer as severe side effects from strokes as their human counterparts. With early and effective treatment, our Ventura vets may be able to help your cat recover well.

What is a stroke?

While ‘stroke’ is a commonly used term, you may not fully understand precisely what a stroke is. Clinically, a stroke is called a cerebrovascular accident. A healthy brain relies on a constant blood supply to remove waste products, supply nutrients and deliver oxygen.

A stroke can happen when blood flow to the brain is reduced.

What can cause a cat to have a stroke?

Strokes are most often diagnosed in cats that are about nine years old, but they can occur due to an underlying illness such as cancer that metastasizes (spreads) to or within the brain, kidney disease, heart disease, hyperthyroidism or parasites. However, it may be impossible to pinpoint a cause in many cases.

Cats are at risk for two different types of stroke. Each type differs in cause:

Ischaemic Stroke

If blood supply to a cat’s brain stops or is suddenly interrupted, a stroke can occur. The condition can also happen due to underlying illnesses which cause an artery to narrow or become clogged.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

A hemorrhagic stroke can happen when an artery bursts or is damaged, resulting in bleeding in a cat’s brain. The bleeding causes blood to press against the brain tissue, leading to brain damage.

What are symptoms of strokes in cats?

Typically, cats start to display symptoms soon after a stroke has occurred. Signs of stroke are similar whether an ischaemic or hemorrhagic stroke has happened. The severity of symptoms will depend on the size of the blockage or bleed, and how much surrounding brain tissue has been impacted.

If your cat is experiencing a stroke, one or more of these symptoms may suddenly appear:

  • Head pressing
  • Head turning or tilting
  • Loss of vision
  • Loss of balance
  • Weakness
  • Arched body
  • Unequal pupil sizes
  • Muscle spasms
  • Circling and/or falling
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Weakness
  • Coma

While these symptoms can indicate that a cat may be having a stroke, they may also be associated with other neurological disorders or diseases. Deciding whether to start or continue treatment after a cat has experienced a stroke can prove very difficult.

Remember that symptoms will be at their worst about 24 hours after your cat has had a stroke.

How are strokes in cats diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination. He or she will also ask about medical history and what symptoms of stroke have been appearing, how quickly they’ve come 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 the vet can confirm a diagnosis.

Diagnostic tests, including blood tests, urinalysis and fecal exams may help to rule out other potential causes. Your vet can use diagnostic imaging (MRI and CT scans) to find abnormalities in the brain.

Which treatment options are available when cats have had strokes?

Several supportive therapies can help your cat cope with, and recover from, symptoms of stroke. Many cats have recovered well with one or a combination of these therapies:

  • Improvements to nutrition, diet or hydration
  • Seizure medications to help control seizures or decrease pressure in the skull
  • Treatment of underlying conditions that may have led to the stroke
  • Oxygen therapy to promote healing of brain tissue
  • Assistance with comfort and cleanliness regarding litter box use
  • Physical rehabilitation (physiotherapy for cats) to help address neurological deficits

What is a veterinary neurologist?

Our board-certified veterinary neurologist has completed specialized training in the field of veterinary neurology. During their training, the veterinarian is exposed to a range of neurological diseases affecting a number of animals, then undergoes an extensive examination process.

If your cat is diagnosed with a stroke or other neurological condition, your primary care veterinarian may refer you to our veterinary neurology department for 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.

Is your cat displaying neurological symptoms you're concerned about? Contact your vet to request a referral to our veterinary neurologist, or visit our Ventura emergency veterinary hospital right away.

Signs of stroke in cats, Ventura veterinary neurologist

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