Stroke in cats

The good news: strokes in cats are pretty rare. The bad news? It can also be a fairly severe issue when it does happen. Cats can have ischemic strokes, which is when blood flow to their brain becomes blocked, either because of blood clots, head trauma, or another underlying issue like parasites. They can also suffer from hemorrhagic strokes, which happen when blood vessels are damaged and bleed out, causing damage to surrounding brain tissues. It’s an event that requires immediate veterinary care.

What are the potential symptoms of stroke in cats?

First off, don’t look for human-like stroke symptoms in cats. Stroke is experienced differently in the animal world. If you think your cat might be having a stroke, be on the lookout for these signs:

  • Dragging one or more legs
  • Limping on one or more legs
  • Sudden collapse
  • Seizures
  • Stumbling
  • Walking in circles
  • Rapidly moving or uneven pupils
  • Blindness
  • Disorientation
  • Head tilt
  • Pressing their head against a hard object
  • Weakness

If any of these are occurring and you’re concerned your cat could be having a stroke, take them to the emergency veterinarian immediately.

What tests are used to confirm stroke in cats?

Your vet will do both a physical and neurological exam to determine if your cat has had a stroke.

  • Physical exams. They’ll take blood pressure readings, do blood clot tests and regular blood work, check fluid in the spine, and look for parasites. The work-up will be quite extensive, since there are so many things that can cause stroke. Knowing the underlying cause is essential to prognosis and treatment plans.
  • Neurological exams. Your vet will potentially do an MRI or CT scan. An MRI is the ideal test, but it can be expensive.

What is the treatment for stroke in cats?

It’s not often easy to determine the root cause of your cat’s stroke, but that will be the first thing to look for and treat. Until the underlying cause can be identified and treated, the main goal is to keep blood pressure up and provide supplemental oxygen. While commonly used in human patients, the efficacy of blood clot medication has not been established in animals so it might not be an option. Otherwise, your veterinarian may prescribe a range of things, from anti-seizure or blood pressure medication to oxygen or fluid therapy. It’s also quite possible your cat will need to be hospitalized for a short time.

What is the typical cost of treatment for stroke in cats?

How much it costs to treat your cat for a stroke depends on how severe the stroke was and how exhaustive the investigation into an underlying cause is. If it was very minor and your cat seems to recover quickly, it’ll likely just be the cost of a vet visit. But for more severe cases, costs can add up into the thousands of dollars on testing alone. You may also need to pay for a hospitalization and ongoing medication.

Hours at the vet: As little as 5 hours, as long as 24 hours or more depending on the severity.

What are the recovery steps for stroke in cats?

  • Take your cat to the vet so they can do a thorough examination and handle the things that need immediate help, like low blood pressure or oxygen levels.
  • Determine and treat the underlying cause. Even if the underlying cause can’t be identified, some monitoring will be required to see if the cat is improving, declining, or staying the same.
  • Work with your veterinarian to develop a long-term plan to monitor you cat’s recovery and manage the underlying cause of stroke and prevent new ones. For minor strokes, depending on where they occur and the underlying cause, your cat will likely make a full recovery within a couple weeks. The full extent of the symptoms will reveal themselves within the first 48 hours and typically won’t get worse after that.

How do I prevent a stroke in cats?

It’s not always possible to prevent strokes in cats. But your best bet is to follow a regular animal health routine. So make sure your cat is getting enough exercise and eating properly, try to cut down their stress levels, and bring them to the vet for regular checkups. Senior cat wellness will evaluate blood pressure and check blood work, which can identify potential issues before they happen and lower the chances of a catastrophic stroke.

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