If you thought it was only humans that could suffer devastating strokes, we’ve got news for you: Apparently even our furry companions can experience this health problem!
Although rare, cats (and even dogs) can experience a stroke. With the help of advanced technology such as MRI or CT scans, it is now easier to confirm a stroke in animals and implement the necessary medical interventions to prevent severe side effects.
Seeing your pets in this condition can be really distressing. Fortunately, cats can recover quickly and need not suffer serious side effects after a stroke, unlike humans. So, instead of taking drastic actions on your own initiative, your top priority should be rushing your pet to the nearest vet for immediate medical care.
The treatment and aftercare for feline stroke is a little different to that of humans. While human patients are usually given blood thinners to lessen the chances of further strokes, this does not work for cats. As of this moment, no medications are available for feline stroke. Treating a cat for stroke only happens by addressing the underlying medical issue. However, diagnosis might be challenging since most symptoms can be mistaken for other medical conditions. Remember that cats cannot speak our language if they feel something is wrong. Moreover, our feline companions resort to hiding their pain whenever they suffer an illness.
Appropriate diagnosis thus relies heavily on your cat’s obvious symptoms, medical history, laboratory results, and your vet’s judgement. Determining the underlying health issue is critical for deciding the best treatment approach and therapy. Early diagnosis and treatment, combined with your patience and love, should go a long way to ensuring your kitty’s speedy recovery.
What is feline stroke?
Brains need oxygen to function properly and maintain the body’s nervous system. Without a constant supply of oxygen, it is impossible for the brain to do its job. One common medical condition associated with impaired oxygen supply to the brain is stroke.
Stroke happens when a blood vessel that carries oxygen to the brain ruptures due to a blockage or blood clot. The ruptured or blocked blood vessel disrupts the flow of oxygen toward the brain, causing the surrounding tissue to die. In humans, the affected brain tissue may cause impaired speech or muscle movements, paralysis on one side of the body, or balance problems.
Cats, meanwhile, may experience almost the same symptoms when they have a stroke. Other symptoms might include vision loss, disorientation, and vomiting. However, it is very rare for cats to suffer a stroke. Hence, you might mistake these symptoms for other medical issues.
Just like humans, cats can suffer two different types of stroke; these are ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke.
Ischemic stroke happens when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is clogged or narrowed. This is often triggered by heart-related problems, wherein irregular heartbeats form a blood clot that may potentially block an artery.
Hemorrhagic stroke, on the other hand, is less common than ischemic stroke, but it can be very dangerous for your feline. This type of stroke occurs when one of the blood vessels in the brain bursts or leaks. Hence, a hemorrhage or bleed occurs in the brain.
Feline stroke – causes and symptoms
Feline stroke can be challenging to diagnose because the symptoms often resemble other medical conditions. Vets can only make a diagnosis based on your cat’s medical history, how quickly the symptoms have developed, and a thorough physical and neurological examination.
On average, stroke can affect cats aged nine years and older. Some underlying illnesses can also make your feline vulnerable to stroke, such as heart disease, lung disease, kidney problems, cancer spreading to the brain, migrating parasites, high blood pressure, and hyperthyroidism.
The symptoms of stroke in cats may differ depending on how much of the brain tissue is damaged, the severity of the blood clot or bleeding in the brain, and the severity of the tissue damage. You might notice some of these obvious symptoms if your cat is experiencing a stroke:
- Body weakness
- Lack of appetite and vomiting
- Loss of balance
- Not being able to use the legs properly when walking
- Abnormal eye movements
- Loss of facial expression
- Tilting of the head or head pressing
- Muscle spasms
- Walking unsteadily
- Unequal pupil size
- Impaired vision
- Arched body
Your cat’s symptoms may worsen 24 hours after the stroke occurs. Since some of the symptoms are similar to other health issues, it can be difficult to decide whether to start a new treatment or continue with the existing one. Early diagnosis is critical for immediate medical intervention and faster recovery.
What to do if your cat has a stroke
Any behavioral changes or obvious signs of distress should be checked by a vet right away. Never diagnose your cat’s symptoms or give medications based on your own judgement. Let your veterinarian perform the laboratory work to accurately diagnose the problem and come up with the appropriate treatment.
Every cat might respond differently to a particular treatment. For this reason, vets usually recommend an individualized treatment approach to manage the underlying health issue behind the stroke and support your cat’s recovery. However, determining the exact cause of the stroke can be challenging, since many symptoms overlap with other medical conditions.
An MRI or CT scan is generally the most accurate diagnostic tool to confirm a stroke. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your vet will start to administer anti-inflammatory drugs while keeping your feline under close observation. The treatment plan may depend on your cat’s health history, symptoms, and the laboratory test results.
Currently, there are no medications to treat feline stroke. In humans, doctors might recommend drugs to help prevent blood clots from recurring in stroke patients, but this kind of medication does not exist for cats. Instead, a vet will need to treat the underlying health issue to manage stroke in cats. Medications like anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, antiemetics, and sedatives may be recommended to help your cat overcome the aftereffects of stroke. Therapies are also available to improve your cat’s recovery.
Recovery and therapy for feline stroke
Unlike humans, our feline companions can often recover quickly from a stroke given the right treatment and home care. Vets usually provide guidance to pet owners on how to care for cats affected by stroke, as well as home therapies available to support faster recovery.
If you are bringing your cat home for the first time after a stroke, you might notice him shaking or making involuntary movements. These symptoms are normal and might go on for a couple of days. Your kitty requires your patience and care to help him move around and stay comfortable. Feed him his regular diet and ensure that he gets enough rest to help him return to full health as soon as possible.
Urine scalding and pressure sores may also occur, since your cat’s body is still adjusting after the stroke. Movement might still be a challenge for your furry friend and this will affect his litter box visits. If the bed gets wet, make sure you change the bedding right away to keep it warm, dry, and comfy.
The bottom line
Seeing your cat suffer a stroke can be frightening, and obviously no fur parent wants to see their pet go through that experience again.
Thankfully, our furry friends are resilient animals and often recover better from stroke than their human counterparts. So do not feel too distressed if you suspect your cat is having a stroke. Take him to the vet immediately for the appropriate medical care and to prevent him from suffering further damage to the brain.
Since no medications are available to treat feline stroke, recurrence of symptoms is likely if the underlying illness behind the stroke is not eliminated. Vets can only make a clear diagnosis based on the symptoms, medical history, and a CT or MRI scan.
Thankfully, cats often recover easily from a stroke. With the right treatment approach, you should start seeing an improvement within 72 hours after the stroke. Depending on the severity of the tissue damage, your vet may recommend a physical therapy program to get your kitty’s motor skills back to normal.
Recovery may take days or even weeks for some, so be patient. Different cats respond differently to treatments and no single solution fits all. Your vet will design a customized treatment plan to help your cat recover as fast as possible.
Image: istockphoto.com / Chalabala