Preventing, Detecting and Treating a Cat Stroke

What are the signs of a cat stroke — and how are you able to prevent strokes in cats before they happen?

A sick cat lying down with eyes half closed.
A sick cat lying down with eyes half closed. Photography ©tverkhovinets | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Although relatively rare, a cat stroke is one of the most serious medical issues facing felines today. A stroke is when the blood flow to the brain is obstructed. Interruption of blood to the brain quickly results in damaged tissue. Since the brain is the command center for all of a cat’s bodily functions, any damage is dangerous. Being able to recognize the symptoms, get a diagnosis and start treatments for a cat who is having or may have had a stroke is critical for his health. Of course, preventing a cat stroke is worth a pound of cure!

Symptoms of a cat stroke

An orange cat who's sleeping or sick.
What are the signs of a cat stroke? Photography ©infinityyy | Getty Images.

Because your cat’s quality of life hangs in the balance, identifying the possibility of a cat stroke is crucial. The American Veterinary Medical Association lists 13 medical emergencies that require immediate veterinary care.

Of them, four could be signs of a cat stroke:

  1. Seizures and/or staggering
  2. Obvious signs of pain or extreme anxiety
  3. Unconsciousness
  4. Refusal to drink for 24 hours or more

Additional cat stroke symptoms include:

  1. Ambulatory issues/walking in circle patterns
  2. Head tilt
  3. Overall weakness
  4. Change in eye movements/uneven pupils
  5. Vomiting
  6. Not eating

If you see any of these signs in your cat, get him to your veterinarian right away! While the symptoms are not necessarily a 100 percent indication that your cat has had a stroke, they all require an immediate medical exam.

Types & causes of a cat stroke

A stroke is caused by an obstruction of blood flow that comes in three variations:

  1. A thrombotic stroke is when a blood clot forms in an artery to the brain
  2. An embolic stroke is when a blood clot forms elsewhere and gets stuck in the bloodstream supplying blood to the brain
  3. Hemorrhagic stroke is when a blood vessel in the brain leaks

Abnormalities to blood flow (i.e. the creation of blood clots or a ruptured blood vessel) are generally considered indications of an underlying issue. The reason your cat can seem fine one minute and in a dire emergency the next is because while the underlying issue causing the blood clot may have been brewing unbeknownst to you, the obstruction itself can manifest quickly.

Here are some main causes of blood clots/blood vessel ruptures:

  1. Thyroid issues
  2. Kidney issues
  3. Diabetes
  4. Traumatic injuries
  5. Heart conditions
  6. High blood pressure
  7. Brain lesions

High blood pressure is a common culprit because it causes cumulative damage to the arteries. Left untreated, over time it can weaken them and also create an environment where blood clots are more easily formed.

Seek immediate treatment for a cat stroke

When it comes to a cat stroke, immediate oxygen therapy can be required. The cat may have to spend time in the Intensive Care Unit while his vital signs are monitored. Making an accurate diagnosis usually involves an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT scan. Very often, medications are required. The types of medicine used in treating strokes are dependent on the issue that caused the stroke to begin with, in addition to oft-prescribed anti-inflammatory medication.

Ongoing in-home treatments often include keeping the cat hydrated with subcutaneous fluids and careful observation.

Primary prevention of a cat stroke

The best method to keep your cat safe from blood clots, heart issues and ultimately, avoiding a stroke is prevention. Keeping your cat in tiptop shape mitigates the chances of stroke-creating medical conditions to arise.

Your cat’s overall health and overall wellbeing can be maintained using a multi-pronged strategy:

  1. Yearly medical exams
  2. Immediate trip to the vet at the first detection of behavioral/physical abnormality
  3. Proper diet
  4. Physical activity
  5. Limiting environmental stressors

While many cats will recover to a solid quality of life in about two weeks following a minor stroke, a cat stroke should be avoided as much as possible. The chances of developing secondary epilepsy after a stroke are greatly increased and no pet parent wants to hear that news!

Keep your paw on the pulse of your kitty’s overall health through regular veterinary check-ups, seeking medical attention in case of any abnormalities involving his physical/behavioral condition. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle for your kitty goes a long way toward greatly decreasing the chances that he will develop any untimely life-threatening issues, especially a stroke.

Thumbnail: Photography ©tverkhovinets | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

About the author

Denise LeBeau is a writer, editor and photographer with almost 20 years of experience of creating content for animal-related issues, endeavors and events. She worked at Best Friends Animal Society for 12 years where she had two columns in the Best Friends Magazine, and held multiple content creation roles including web managing editor and outreach campaign editor. Denise has been an ongoing contributor to Catster since 2014, writing for the magazine and website. The self-professed poet laureate of the pet set is currently the manager of development for an animal welfare agency, where she works with a team to create content across media platforms. She lives in Hampton Bays with her two rescue Siamese mixes – Flipper and Slayer, and her LBD (little brown dog), Zephyrella.

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