Spinal Stroke In Dogs: Causes And Treatments

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Sometimes dogs are happy and healthy and then get unexpected limb paralysis after running around. If this has happened to your dog, your dog might be suffering from a fibrocartilaginous embolism, also known as “spinal stroke.”

A spinal stroke in dogs usually occurs after mild to strenuous activity. It is caused when a piece of your dog’s intervertebral disc blocks a blood vessel that supplies blood flow to the spinal cord. You can treat a spinal stroke through rehabilitation and supportive care. Dogs usually make a full recovery. 

This article will look at the symptoms, causes, and recovery process of spinal stroke in dogs. 

How Serious Is A Spinal Stroke? 

Spinal stroke in dogs

A spinal stroke occurs when a piece of the dog’s intervertebral disc causes a blockage in a blood vessel that supplies the spinal cord. The dog will usually suffer from immediate paralysis in one or more of its legs. 

If your dog suffers a spinal stroke, it can be quite serious, and you will need to take your pet to a vet immediately. Luckily, most dogs make a full recovery, and those who suffered a severe spinal stroke might show a subtle weakness in the affected limbs but with no pain. 

The Causes Of Spinal Stroke In Dogs

A spinal stroke usually occurs out of nowhere. Your dog was playing and running around, and suddenly he or she yelped and started experiencing paralysis in one or more legs. 

No one knows exactly what causes a spinal stroke. But it is usually brought on by an injury to the spine that causes a piece of the dog’s intervertebral disc to cause a blockage in a blood vessel that supplies blood to the spinal cord.  

There are some predispositions. For example, spinal stroke is usually more common in male dogs than in female ones. It could also be caused by underlying hyperlipidemia when there are high levels of fat in the blood. Hyperlipidemia is known to cause a heart attack or stroke when untreated. 

A spinal stroke usually occurs in larger breeds, but smaller breeds like schnauzers have also been diagnosed. 

The Symptoms Of Spinal Stroke In Dogs

As mentioned before, your dog will usually run around and suddenly get paralysis in one of its limbs. Paralysis is the most obvious sign of a spinal stroke. It usually follows after your dog is engaging in mild to strenuous activity. 

So symptoms of spinal stroke will usually include:

  • Pain that occurs suddenly
  • Severe pain 
  • Sign of weakness
  • Paralysis in one or more legs
  • Uncoordinated walk 
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Dragging of the back legs
  • Sudden hind leg weakness
  • Wobbly in their legs
  • Paw knuckling

However, you will need to take your dog to a vet for a proper diagnosis. You need an MRI to diagnose spinal stroke. 

Diagnosis and Prognosis Of Spinal Stroke In Dogs

If your dog shows signs of a spinal stroke, your vet will conduct a physical examination to rule out any other causes. You will need an MRI to diagnose a spinal Stroke. Your vet will need to order an MRI to see what part of the spine is affected and the embolism’s size. This will determine your dog’s prognosis.

It is possible that your dog will make a full recovery. This will take time, patience, and rehabilitation.

Every dog’s recovery process will be different. Your dog’s prognosis ultimately depends on how quickly you took your dog to the vet, which part of the spine is affected, the size of the embolism, and how quickly the vet can treat your dog. 

Treatment and Recovery Process Of Spinal Stroke

There is good news!

With proper treatment, more than 74% of dogs who suffer spinal stroke make full recoveries. They usually regain their leg function and range of motion. 

Your vet will first focus on reducing the inflammation and swelling for a few weeks before focusing on rehab exercises to improve your dog’s mobility and strength. To heal, your dog will also need a comfortable sleeping area away from other animals and children.

Thus, supportive care and rehabilitation are the main treatment options. 

Physical Therapy To Treat Spinal Stroke In Dogs

Rehabilitation is extremely important for your dog to regain mobility and strength. Physical therapy will help your dog to do just that. It’s important to remember that some dogs never regain their full range of motion, but physical therapy improves their odds. 

Examples of rehabilitation include:

  • Hydrotherapy. Your dog will walk on an underwater treadmill to slowly build strength. Water takes the stress of full weight away from your dog’s legs, helping your dog go through the full range of motion needed for normal walking. 
  • Stretching. 
  • Acupuncture. Acupuncture may reduce inflammation and pain and aid in regaining motor function. 
  • Laser therapy. It reduces inflammation and improves blood flow. 
  • Exercising. Movement to increase strength and range of motion is critical. Your vet will advise you on what the best method is. 

It will take time, but your dog will slowly improve and regain its mobility, coordination, and strength. It can take anywhere from two to six weeks to see an improvement.

While your dog is in recovery, they might experience incontinence or urinary tract infection. If these symptoms do not improve, you should bring them to your vet’s attention. 

Mobility Aids To Keep Your Dog Upright And Mobile 

There are several mobility aids your dog can use to assist them in staying mobile and upright during rehabilitation. Examples include a wheelchair, lifting harness, or back brace

Only use these if your vet recommends them. These assistive devices will offer support and stabilization to your dog. Your dog must get moving as soon as possible. 

Creating A Rest Area For Your Dog

Your dog must have a comfortable area to rest in during recovery. You will, however, need to restrict your dog’s movement and keep your dog away from other pets, children, etc.

Your dog should have a soft place to sleep on, and ensure that you turn your dog frequently to avoid bed sores. Your dog will need a lot of affection, patience, and nutritious meals. 

Final Thoughts on Spinal Stroke

Spinal stroke can happen so suddenly, and it is normal to feel panicked when you notice any of the symptoms. It is very important to visit a vet immediately. Your vet will prescribe a treatment plan if it is indeed a spinal stroke.

With rehabilitation and supportive care, your dog has a good chance of making a full recovery.

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