Can cats have strokes? The simple answer would be yes, they can. Stroke is a common medical condition that can happen to humans, dogs, cats, and many other animals. Cats can have strokes, but they are a bit different than strokes in humans, even dogs.
Although what we call the “acute stroke” doesn’t have to have debilitating consequences in humans and dogs, cats got the short end of the deal. An acute stroke in cats usually means there’s an underlying medical condition or a very serious acute cause to it. Luckily, when caught early and treated properly, the chances that your cat will recover is high.
In this article, we will give you a comprehensive list of symptoms, possible causes, and ways to treat and care for a cat which had a stroke. It is a very serious matter and shouldn’t be taken lightly, because a stroke can easily end fatally for the cat if not treated properly.
Types of Stroke
A stroke is a common name for a medical condition where blood supply to the brain is suddenly interrupted. Depending on which region of the brain is affected, the aftermath can be more or less severe.
There is also a matter of duration; if the symptoms last for a very short time (an hour or so), we call it a “mini stroke,” and if the consequences are permanent, it’s a full stroke.
Depending on the mechanics, we can divide strokes into three categories:
- Ischemic Stroke. This is the most common type, and most humans and animals suffer from this condition when we think of a stroke. It is caused by a blockage (such as a blood clot) that is formed in an artery leading to the brain.
- Intracerebral Hemorrhage. If an artery inside the brain suddenly ruptures, the blood will spill over the tissue, putting a lot of pressure on the brain. This type happens very suddenly and has severe consequences. Unfortunately, it is also very hard to predict as the causes for it are virtually undetectable.
- Subarachnoid Hemorrhage. Although it is very similar to the previous type because it’s also caused by a ruptured artery, this type of stroke makes the blood fill the area around the brain rather than the inside.
Symptoms of a Stroke
Many symptoms that might make you suspect your cat had a stroke are very similar to the symptoms of some other medical conditions, but if they are seen in a combination, you are probably right to suspect it’s a stroke.
If you see any of these symptoms, make sure to take your cat to the vet as soon as possible, because they can all be connected to very serious diseases.
- Nausea and vomiting. Not a symptom of a stroke per se, since it’s usually connected to extended exposure to the sun or digestive problems. However, it should be addressed as soon as possible, and you should check for other signs as well.
- Lack of balance and falling over. If your cat suddenly isn’t able to do all the usual cat business like jumping to higher ground or hopping around the house with ease, it is possible she had a stroke. The center for balance, or the vestibular system, consists of sensors located in the inner ear, and a control centre in the back of the brain. Since this area is often affected by hemorrhages, imbalance is a common sign of a stroke.
- Abnormal head tilt. If the hemorrhage caused pressure to one side of the brain, your cat might try to compensate by holding her head under an angle. This looks like she is tilting her head with one ear lower than the other (or the famous “question mark pose” in dogs). Although this is also a common symptom of vestibular disease, if your cat doesn’t have a history of this condition, it’s a very certain sign of stroke.
- Not being able to walk at all. If your cat can’t stand on her feet, she might have suffered a stroke. Of course, this sudden inability to walk can be caused by many other conditions, but in any case, make sure to take your cat to the vet as soon as possible. You might not have a lot of time.
- Walking in circles or stirring to one side while walking. It is a usual occurrence that one side of the brain is damaged by a stroke. If this happens, your cat might not be able to control one side of her body properly. She might have problems with assessing how to walk properly, have problems with balance, or just experience numbness on one side of the body. This is a dead giveaway, and you can be sure she had a stroke.
- Nystagmus. This is a condition where a cat has unusual eye movements (flicking from side to side), the pupils are different in size, or she has problem focusing. This is caused by poor blood supply to the eye due to the stroke.
- Unusual color of the tongue. This is also not a symptom tied only to the stroke, but combined with some of the other symptoms mentioned above, definitely paints a more accurate picture. If your cat’s tongue is not the usual pink, but pale, almost white or blue, you should immediately take your cat to the vet. The flow of blood is obstructed, and she might be in grave danger.
See Also: How to Tell If Your Cat is Sick
Causes of a Stroke
Although in many cases we can’t tell what caused a stroke, there are certain situations and conditions which might cause it. Here is a list of some possibilities, just so you can recognize them and keep an eye on your cat if needed.
- Hypertension. Hypertension may cause unhealthy pressure in the arteries, leading to a rupture when combined with other factors. Many senior cats suffer from high blood pressure, so take precautions and keep track of your cat’s state weekly. Special foods and exercise regime can help with reducing blood pressure to a normal or acceptable level.
- Trauma to the head. Cats are mischievous, yes, and might injure their head while doing their usual Matrix-grade stunts. If you notice a bump on your cat’s head or witness her being injured, it is a good idea to monitor her condition over the next couple of weeks. Your vet will instruct you further and suggest tests that might be needed.
- Blood clot. There are many, many reasons that can lead to the formation of a blood clot. Unfortunately, it is very hard to detect one in time; but if you notice your cat is limping, being sensitive to touches to the extremities, or having spinal problems, you should consult your vet.
- Brain tumor. Another symptom that is very hard to spot. Usual clues are dementia, sudden changes in behavior like aggression or lack of orientation, depression, and movement difficulties.
- Vestibular disease. Vestibular disease is a condition that affects the center of balance in the inner ear, as well as the brain. The symptoms of this disease and stroke are very similar, but it’s worth mentioning that the first one is a chronic disease that can develop at an early age. However, the vestibular disease can be a precursor to stroke, so if you know your cat has it, be proactive and track your cat’s condition.
- Kidney disease. Or any kind of chronic diseases related to blood vessels like lung disease, spinal problems, liver disease, etc. These are usually developed in senior cats or due to parasites and poor living conditions.
- Hyperthyroidism. This disease is caused by an overactive thyroid gland. This condition can lead to high blood pressure, which is a precursor to strokes.
- Obesity. Cats that suffer from obesity can get clogged arteries, which makes the blood flow difficult, allowing the formation of blood clots. Try to keep your cat fit and lean no matter how much she begs for that extra fill, because stroke is just one of many possible complications caused by this easily avoidable disease.
- Age. Arteries get less and less flexible with age. This makes them much more prone to ruptures and clogging. A healthy lifestyle is very important, but there is only so much we can do when it comes to aging. Adding supplements to your cat’s diet can help a lot, but make sure to consult your vet before you start adding anything to the food.
See Also: How Long Do House Cats Live
How is the Stroke Diagnosed?
If you suspect your cat had a stroke, take her to the vet immediately. It is very hard to pinpoint a condition such as this one, and a lot of tests need to be done before a vet is sure what is actually causing the problem.
First thing’s first, the moment you go to the vet, you should tell them all about your cat’s disease history, age, diet, and habits. After that, the vet can do:
- Full blood work. This means that the tests should include the blood count and all biochemical analyses. This will give the vet a good picture of your cat’s health, as well as all chronic and acute conditions. If there are any problems with hormones, kidneys, or liver, it’s easily visible in blood tests.
- Urinalysis. This is also an important test to see if there is any matter that shouldn’t be there in your cat’s body, or if any of the parameters are higher/lower than usual.
- A physical/neurological exam. Measuring your cat’s reflex responses, eye movement, and sensitivity to physical stimuli is a very good way to narrow down possible causes for her condition.
- CT scan/MRI. Even though these scans can be a bit expensive, this is the best way to pinpoint a condition such as the stroke. Clots or ruptures are clearly visible in these scans, and the treatment can start immediately.
Treatment and Recovery
There is no direct treatment for a stroke because it’s an acute condition, but there are many possible treatments that are symptomatic or serve as support to the cat.
- Seizure medication. This kind of therapy can help reduce the risk of future strokes and pressure caused by the stroke. Depending on the underlying conditions and disease history, some cats might need to take the meds for as long as they live; others may need the meds just for a certain period of time.
- Changing the diet. Specialized foods for various medical conditions are readily available almost anywhere. They do cost more than the regular kibble, but compared to the vet bills, they are the only sane option in the long run.
- Physical therapy. If the stroke left your cat disabled or in pain, physical therapy can take you both a long way. If your cat has trouble walking or maintaining balance, exercises can be done daily until the brain practically “rewires” to support her again. If the problems are more of a neurological nature, there are ways to boost her cognitive centers and get her back to her old self, at least to some extent. Don’t lose hope, because cats are incredibly resilient creatures and have a strong survival instinct. Be patient and understanding, and she’ll get back on her feet with a little bit of dedication and hard work.
- Oxygen therapy. This can take your cat a long way, if it’s available. It helps deliver oxygen to parts of the brain that were damaged, helping and improving the healing process. It is done over a relatively short period of time and can make a lot of difference, so make sure to ask about it.
- Therapy for any conditions that caused the stroke. This one goes without saying. To prevent the stroke from happening again, you should treat the root of the problem that caused it.
Your cat can make a full or partial recovery from a stroke, depending on her disease history and age. No matter the outcome, try to be cooperative and give her the best possible treatment available and affordable.
Unfortunately, many cats suffer from strokes without their owners ever realizing it. It’s important to do routine checkups and regular blood tests, just to make sure you’re on the safe side.
Stroke symptoms are visible very fast—usually within the first 48 hours. If you noticed something is wrong, and your cat is not getting better, or the condition becomes worse, make sure to react immediately.
It’s impossible to take care of this condition on your own, so medical care is a must. Go to the vet and find out your options, because most cats get a full recovery from a stroke given proper care.
Do you suspect that your cat has just suffered a stroke? Did you find the information in this article helpful? Do you have any tips of your own to offer? Leave a comment in the section below, and don’t forget to check out our next article on why your cat may be foaming at the mouth.