It was once thought that cats did not have strokes, because their clinical signs of stroke are so unlike those in humans. However, with the advancement of specialized diagnostic tools in veterinarian medicine, it was discovered that cats indeed can experience strokes. In many cases, the signs of strokes in cats are confused with those caused by other brain disorders, including tumors. Advanced diagnostic techniques normally are needed to correctly diagnose feline strokes.
Diagnosing Strokes in Cats
As soon as a cat displays stroke-like clinical signs, it should be taken immediately to a veterinary facility. The veterinarian will perform a series of tests to rule in or out other possible causes of the cat’s symptoms. If no specific disorder is quickly diagnosed, more specialized tests will be necessary to assess whether a stroke has indeed happened. In any event, the cat will need to be hospitalized and stabilized while these diagnostic procedures take place.
The attending veterinarian typically will gather an initial database by taking a blood sample for a complete blood count and serum biochemistry profile. Blood tests can reveal some potential causes of feline strokes, such as kidney disease. A urinalysis may also be performed, which can show other abnormalities. Unfortunately, most strokes cannot be definitively diagnosed by blood or urine tests or by radiography (x-rays). The best way to accurately diagnose a stroke in cats is through brain images and scans. These diagnostic tools include a computed tomography (CT) scan and/or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Most local small animal veterinary clinics do not have the instruments necessary to conduct either a MRI or a CT scan. If your veterinarian suspects that your cat has had a stroke, you probably will be referred to a veterinary teaching hospital or to a veterinary neurologist whose clinic has these capabilities.
CT scan and MRI tests will not only be able to provide information necessary to diagnose a stroke, but these tests also will enable the veterinarian to identify the type of stroke that the cat has had. An ischemic stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain has been compromised, and a hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel inside the brain has burst. The treatment protocol differs depending upon which type of stroke is involved.