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Ask the Vet

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

Groundhog day has passed. Holtsville Hal and Malverne Mel have conflicting predictions as to whether we will have more winter or not. Either way, it’s time to get ready to plant and that includes the use of pesticides. 

Certain pesticides can affect our four-legged family members. Organophosphates and carbamates are pesticides that are commonly used in the United States. Newer pesticides do not contain these chemicals but there are still plenty of them that do and some households may still contain older products that they will still use. 

We see exposure to these compounds more in outdoor cats than dogs because they tend to wander through our (and sometimes the neighbor’s) gardens and properties. 

These chemicals affect the central nervous system. Both chemicals can be absorbed through the membranes of the mouth or sinuses and can also be absorbed transdermal (through the skin). Therefore, it is very important to keep pets inside if you are spraying and check the label to make sure none of the components are organophosphates or carbamates. If you are not sure, the internet is a great source to check.

If the chemical is inhaled or ingested in lower amounts your pet will have what is called the classic “SLUDE” symptoms (Salivation, Lacrimation, Urination, Diarrhea, Emesis). Larger doses can lead to bronchospasm (spasm of the airway) and seizures. These are life threatening and potentially fatal complications.

Treatment is usually supportative however; if you notice symptoms early, decontamination (which includes inducing vomiting and administering activated charcoal) can be started. If your pet is very subdued or seizuring the risk of aspiration is very high, then decontamination will not be pursued. Also, if your pet vomits before arrival at the veterinarian’s office decontamination will not be started. Instead IV fluids, medications to help with tremors, help with secretions, prevent vomiting, etc are used until the compounds clear the system.

In summary, check your supply of pesticides’ ingredients online to see if they are in the organophosphate or carbamate in origin. If they contain any, do not use or get rid of the product entirely. Also, if your pet is showing any of the signs I have described, get it to your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency clinic as soon as possible.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. 

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

There has been a lot of media attention about outbreaks of the canine influenza virus (CIV), but very little known about how to predict it’s spread. 

Dr. J. Scott Weese of the University of Guelph, Ontario hopes to put an end to that. CIV strain H2N8 was first reported in racing greyhounds in Florida in 2004. Milder cases only cause coughing and transient fever. However, more severe cases can lead to severe pneumonia. Approximately 2% of cases are fatal. Fatalities are usually limited to older dogs or dogs with preexisting health conditions.

In April, 2015, an outbreak of the CIV occurred in the Chicago area that affected more than 1,000 dogs and led to eight deaths. Another outbreak shortly after the Chicago incident occurred in the Atlanta area affecting approximately 80 dogs (no deaths). 

In December 2015, another outbreak occurred in the Seattle area affecting approximately 80 dogs (again, no deaths). Interestingly, none of the cases in 2015 were caused by the CIV H3N8 strain, but rather an H3N2 strain. The H3N2 strain was previously only seen in Asia (first diagnosed in 2006-2007). It is believed that this Asian strain gained entrance to the United States through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport inside a dog from Korea.

Fast forward to today and Dr. Weese: between August of 2022 and January of 2023, 200 veterinarians reported cases in Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

What Dr. Weese has concluded from the initial information is that CIV differs from human influenza virus in one distinct way. Where the human influenza virus is seasonal based on changes in behavior (people spending more time indoors in closer proximity to each other). CIV spread is more sporadic and year-round. 

CIV is passed from dog to dog via aerosolized respiratory secretions from coughing, barking, sneezing, contaminated objects (food and water bowls, kennel surfaces) and people moving between infected and uninfected dogs. Dogs that stay at kennels, groomers, doggy day care, parks etc. are more at risk. This also explains why CIV outbreaks are sporadic and occur year-round.

Vaccines for both known strains (H3N8 and H3N2) are available for dogs at this time. The goal of the vaccine is to expose the host (in this case dogs) to a weakened or inactivated form of the virus and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies against it. This will prevent severe forms of the disease but will not prevent infection, nor prevent shedding of the virus.

We hope that as Dr. Weese gets more data a better map of the spread of this disease. Until that time please consult with your veterinarian as to whether your dog is at risk for the CIV virus (H3N8 or H3N2 strain) and whether a vaccine is warranted.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

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What’s below the gum line

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

Dental x-rays have been around a long time. Dentists have x-rayed humans starting as far back as 1896 and became mainstream in the 1950’s. More recently, the use of digital dental x-ray units have become more mainstream in veterinary medicine and allow veterinarians to pick up as much as 60% more periodontal and dental pathology. 

Periodontal pathology is defined as disease surrounding the tooth. Peri, meaning around, and dontium, meaning tooth. The periodontium includes the gum, periodontal ligament (a meshwork of connective tissue that attaches the tooth to the jaw), and the alveolar bone (the bone of the jaw immediately surrounding the tooth). 

Periodontal pathology usually starts with plaque building up on the enamel of the tooth near the gumline which leads to gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums. If the plaque is not removed, it continues to grow into a calculus (a mineralized matrix of old food, saliva, bacteria and minerals). As the periodontal disease advances, the gums will either recede and expose the root or pockets will develop between the gumline and tooth.  

These pockets are the tricky part. They hide tartar (and bacteria) and, because the pockets are below the gumline, even brushing the teeth will not get rid of them. If the gums have not receded exposing the root, there is no way of telling whether the root is damaged and the tooth should be removed without dental x-rays. 

In my experience the biggest concern of a pet owner is not the cost of dentistry or having teeth removed, but rather anesthesia and length of anesthesia. Anything to reduce the time under anesthesia will help minimize any anesthetic complications and always puts my mind at ease.

Dental x-rays are also important for identifying other problems with the oral cavity. In younger pets, complications can occur from unerupted deciduous (baby) teeth. If a tooth that should have come through the gums does not, it is not only painful, but also can delay the eruption of adult teeth, lead to cysts around the tooth, infection, etc. 

Many veterinary dentists recommend a full examination of the mouth when a pet is spayed or neutered. This is a great time to do this because the patient needs to be anesthetized for the spay/neuter and it is much safer to keep a pet anesthetized a little longer than it is to anesthetize them multiple times. 

If anything suspicious is found during the exam dental x-rays are a great way to diagnose the problem and intervene immediately. Older pets are more at risk for tumors that arise from the bones of the jaw. Dental x-rays are important for evaluation the extent of any oral tumors and help veterinarians decide on an appropriate treatment plan.   

February is National Pet Dental Health Month so remember to take your pet to get those choppers checked out and if your vet recommends dental x-rays, you’ll know why.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. 

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

The winter holidays. Time to enjoy family and friends, eat good food, drink good drink, and celebrate. The holidays also present potential hazards for our pets. Here is a  short list of potential holiday hazards.

Candy and Chocolate Poisoning: First, chocolate contains two chemicals (caffeine and theobromine) which are powerful stimulants. Mild symptoms usually begin within 6-12 hours after ingestion and include panting, hyperactivity, increased thirst and urination. Severe cases include irregular heart rhythms, seizures, coma, and death. There are specific toxic levels for all pets but just like people some dogs and cats can be very sensitive to chocolate and show signs of poisoning from much lesser amounts.  

Second, chocolate is very high in sugar and fat. Minimally, this will give your pet a tummy ache but I have personally seen a few cases of serious gastroenteritis, pancreatitis, liver disease from ingestion of chocolate.

Macadamia Nuts: The exact portion of the nut that is toxic to dogs is unknown at this time but veterinary toxicologists (poison experts) suspect that it has to do with something in the oil. Signs include tremors, seizures, and irregular heart rhythms. Be careful about leaving macadamia nuts or nut mixes with macadamia nuts in them within the reach of your dogs.

Medications: Both prescription and over the counter medications can do great harm to our pets. A single ibuprofen or acetaminophen tablet could be potentially fatal to a small dog or cat and could cause serious illness even in a larger dog.

Poisonous Plants: Winter Lillies, Poinsettas, Mistletoe, Holly, and other seasonal plants can lead to an upset stomach in some cases, but in others can potentially cause irregular heart rhythms, kidney failure, ulcers of the mouth, etc. Best to keep these plants away from your pets or consider not decorating your house with them if you are concerned that your pet may chew or ingest them. 

Hazards Around the Christmas Tree: Christmas tree water can contain fertilizers or other chemicals can make your pet severely ill if ingested. Electric cords, tinsel, ribbons, glass ornaments, etc should either be secured away from curious pets or possibly removed to prevent electrocution, intestinal obstructions, or other internal organ damage.

Alcohol and Old (spoiled) Food: Curious pets will take advantage of a late-night party and get into these items after you go to bed. Make sure to clean up so that you do not have to worry about your pet ingesting leftover cocktails and treats that may have mold or bacteria growing on it.

Yeast Dough: The same yeast that helps the dough to rise can lead to problems in our pets. The yeast itself is potentially poisonous and the dough can continue to rise in the pet’s stomach causing painful and potentially harmful consequences.

If you know of a poisonous exposure or potential poisonous exposure call the National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) at (888) 426-4435. This hotline is staffed with experts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday season, as well as a prosperous 2023. I also want to thank Heidi Sutton and all the staff at Times Beacon Record News Media and affiliates for another great year.  

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

As Thanksgiving and the winter holidays approach, I thought this would be a good time to discuss a disease that affects both dogs and cats: pancreatitis. 

Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is a serious disease with potential fatal consequences.  The pancreas is an organ that sits just behind the stomach and has two functions: an exocrine (digestive) function, as well as an endocrine (glandular) function. The exocrine portion of the pancreas produces bicarbonate (to neutralize acid as food leaves the stomach) and digestive enzymes (to breakdown protein, starch, and fat into molecules small enough to be absorbed by the small intestine).  

We will focus more on the exocrine portion when describing pancreatitis. During normal digestion the exocrine pancreas is stimulated to secrete its bicarbonate and enzymes through small tubes called pancreatic ducts into the duodenum, or first section of small intestine. In the case of pancreatitis, these same enzymes are overproduced and begin to digest the pancreas itself.  This pathology is referred to as autodigestion.  

Risk factors include: hypertriglyceridemia (excessive fatty acids in the bloodstream) is the most common cause, obesity, glandular diseases (such as diabetes, Cushing’s Disease, and an underactive thyroid) medications (such as cortisone derivatives, certain antibiotics, and many chemotherapies), certain breeds (Miniature Schnauzers, Yorkshire Terriers, and many other toy breeds), and any trauma to the abdomen (hit by a car or an attack by another animal) can trigger inflammation of the pancreas. We tend to see an increased number of acute pancreatitis cases around the holidays. Usually guests were sneaking the pet extra treats and table scraps. 

Symptoms of pancreatitis include lethargy, vomiting, and splinting (this refers to a hunched up appearance due to abdominal pain). Some patients will become jaundice, or yellow because the bile duct, gall bladder and liver are located just next to the pancreas. Mess with one and there can also be complications to the other as well.  

Treatment usually consists of intravenous (IV) fluids, IV medications for nausea, pain management, and antibiotics.  Severe cases require transfusions of plasma or blood.  Surgery to treat pancreatitis is indicated if there are abscesses or dead tissue but usually a last resort because surgery for pancreatitis is so risky. Some cases are so acute and severe that the patient may not improve. These cases are very sad because the patient either passes on their own, or owners are forced to euthanize for humane reasons.  

Long term complications of pancreatitis include diabetes and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).  EPI refers to when the pancreas no longer produces enough enzymes to digest food so commercially made synthetic enzymes have to be added to the food. Diabetes requires daily injections of insulin. Both are expensive and time consuming. 

The best way to treat pancreatitis is to prevent it altogether. Therefore, when Fluffy is giving you the sad eyes this holiday season, do not give in. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. 

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

As Halloween approaches, we usually worry about chocolate toxicity, but let’s not forget about grape and raisin toxicity. Grapes and their dehydrated form, raisins, have been implicated in kidney damage (sometimes severe irreversible damage). There is also still debate as to how many grapes or raisins are toxic to pets. Let’s take a closer look at grape and raisin toxicity to see if we can shed some light on what we do know about this nebulous topic.   

Unfortunately, the exact toxic substance to dogs in grapes and raisins is still not completely known and neither the color of the grape, nor seeded versus seedless makes a difference. However, although this has not been completely verified, there has been somewhat of a breakthrough recently. 

A compound in grapes called tartaric acid has been speculated as the toxic culprit. Previously, experts felt that high concentration of a type of sugar component called monosaccharides was to blame, whereas others blamed a compound called tannins. Additional theories do not implicate anything in the grape itself, but rather the growth of certain fungi on the grape and toxins produced called aflatoxins, or pesticides sprayed on grapes.  

The toxic dose or quantity of grapes and raisins is also up for debate. There does seem to be a genetic component associated with which individual dogs are more sensitive grapes or raisins. An article published in 2009 reviewed the charts of almost 200 dogs over a 13-year period. The study found some dogs ate over two pounds of raisins without developing any signs of poisoning, whereas others developed irreversible kidney failure with as little as three grams of grapes or raisins. 

Just to give you some perspective as to what three grams is: your average grape weighs 5 grams, and a raisin weighs about 0.5 grams. As little as one grape or six raisins could be toxic to your dog. However, some dogs will not get sick, or require large amounts of grapes/raisins before any damage is done. A good rule of thumb is 1 grape/raisin per 10 pounds should be a concern.

There is no antidote once the patient starts showing symptoms so this is truly an example of, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Symptoms of toxicity include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, and increase in thirst/urination. These patients were less likely to make a full recovery. Some were euthanized before discharge. The patients that did better in the same 2009 study were those in which the owners witnessed the ingestion and brought to a veterinary clinic immediately where veterinarians were able to induce emesis (force vomiting) and give activated charcoal ASAP. 

In conclusion, although veterinarians are closer to determining the toxic component (tartaric acid), we are not sure why some dogs are more sensitive than others and what is a toxic dose. Therefore, keep grapes and raisins away from your dog when possible and, if you witness your dog eating grapes or raisins, bring him or her immediately to your veterinarian’s office or an emergency clinic for treatment.  

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

The summer is not over and what better way to spend a hot day than to go to the beach and there is no better friend to bring than your happy canine. Just be aware that there are also hazards at the beach for your dog. 

Saltwater/Seawater: Saltwater is a hyperosmotic. Hyperosmotic means the large amount of salt in seawater pulls fluid to it. Pulling fluid from the body into the gastrointestinal tract not only causes severe vomiting and diarrhea and secondary dehydration, but also can pull water from the tissues surrounding the brain. This will cause a secondary cerebral edema, or brain swelling and neurologic signs like seizures. 

The second concern are the microscopic creatures living in the water. Seawater contains increased levels of bacteria from runoff, as well as cyanobacteria (blue green algae). These microorganisms can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms, potential sepsis, and neurologic symptoms. If the beach is closed to humans, it is probably not a good day to walk with your dog on the beach even if they want to go into the water.

Cuts/lacerations/burns to feet: Cuts on dogs footpads are quite common on the beaches of the north shore of long island. We usually get 4-5 cases at our clinic alone each summer and we are not even an emergency clinic. Shells, sharp rocks, broken glass can all cut deeply into a dog’s pad. Sand, bacteria and other debris can then get into these open wounds. Also remember that the asphalt in the parking lot can become very hot leading to burning of the pads. 

It is best to purchase some protective booties (if your dog will leave them on) to protect their feet from these sharp objects and excessive heat.

Toxicity: Not long ago this summer a couple brought their 5-month-old puppy into the clinic disoriented and difficulty walking. They had been walking on the beach that evening and the puppy was off leash. He did not return and, when they found him, he was in the condition I described above. 

When the owners arrived, I was not sure what had happened but I knew the puppy needed to be monitored overnight. We immediately transferred this puppy to the emergency clinic and, at the emergency clinic, the puppy was diagnosed with marijuana toxicity. Rotten food and other sharp objects such as bones, etc are a concern for toxicity, intestinal obstructions, or perforations. Therefore, be careful with your dog off leash that they don’t get into anything that may have been discarded. 

Heat stroke/sunburn: There really isn’t any shade at the beach unless you bring a beach umbrella with you. Remember that affects our dogs as well. Make sure to provide them with shade, do not let them run around excessively during the hottest time of the day, and apply sunscreen protection to hairless areas if you will be at the beach all day with your dog.

Please enjoy a day at the beach with your dog, but also take certain precautions to make sure the day is enjoyable for you both. 

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

The last day of school has passed and summer is here. What better time to take advantage of travel with the family? And family for many of us includes four legged members. 

Nowadays more and more hotels and rentals are pet friendly and, with a quick search on the internet, it can be easy to find establishments that accept pets. Camping is also a popular vacation choice and many campgrounds will accept pets. 

Check with your veterinarian that your dog or cat is up to date on their vaccines, as well as discuss any additional vaccines against diseases that your pet may be at risk for when traveling (especially at campsites). Make sure you know where the nearest local veterinary emergency clinic or, in more rural areas, which veterinary clinic may offer emergency services.

What about travel itself? Some pets make excellent travel companions, while others don’t and become agitated in the car. Dogs or cats that become just mildly agitated in the car can get by with a more holistic approach.

One way to soothe our pet’s anxiety is to use scents. Lavender is an excellent way to calm dogs during travel induced excitement (one study used a lavender scented oil that could be sprayed on a blanket), whereas for cats a synthetic facial pheromone (scent hormone) is more effective. 

Some pets are just too wound up to use any aromatherapy or pheromones and need medication. Certain sedatives or tranquilizers can be used for short to medium length trips, whereas medications such as selected serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or antidepressants are needed for really high-strung pets to take both during travel and a stay in an unfamiliar environment. 

If you feel something like an SSRI or an antidepressant is warranted make sure to start well enough before leaving on vacation. Most of these medications have a four week induction period (meaning they are not truly at therapeutic levels for at least four weeks) and need to be weaned off after returning from vacation. Some pets also require pre medication bloodwork (to make sure our pet’s organs can safely tolerate the medication long term) so make an appointment well in advance of your vacation to see your veterinarian.  

Antihistamines can be used for motion sickness but have been proven to make terrible sedatives for travel so check with your veterinarian before considering “self-medicating.” In conclusion, making our pets traveling guests can really enhance a vacation.  Just travel safe.     

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. 

It has been found that training, play and exercise play a key role in slowing the decline of aging pets. METRO photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

People often ask me of their aging pets, “do dogs and cats get Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?” The answer is both no and yes. Although the terms Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are not used in veterinary medicine, pets can have behavioral changes similar to that as their brain ages. 

MRI’s on aging pets have revealed that the brains of dogs and cats both decrease in size and develop pathologic changes. Pathologists have also evaluated the brain tissue on deceased pets and found changes within the tissue itself such as a degeneration of cells and buildup of something called amyloid plaques. The disorder is called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, or CDS for short.

The behavioral changes associated with CDS can be summarized in the acronym DISHA: Disorientation, Altered Interactions with people or other pets, Altered Sleep-wake cycles, House-soiling, and Altered activity levels. Other behavioral changes could also include a decrease in sensitivity to any stimuli and an increase in agitation or anxiety.

Impairment in memory or learning is not as affected in pets as compared to humans with cognitive decline but the ability to adapt to change may be more pronounced in these pets. The symptoms of other diseases such as brain tumors, infections, glandular disease, organ dysfunction, etc. can mimic CDS so testing is as important as a thorough patient history and physical exam. 

The gold standard of diagnosing CDS is using an MRI but most people just are not able to pursue an MRI (MRI’s are both expensive, as well as only available at referral hospitals). However, I recommend some basic diagnostics such as bloodwork, possible X-rays or ultrasound is recommended to rule out underlying diseases before starting treatment.

Treatment includes both cognitive enrichment, as well as medications and diet/supplements. It has been found that training, play and exercise play a key role in slowing the decline of aging pets. Certain medications that increase dopamine levels and/or increase bloodflow to the brain have been found helpful in slowing cognitive decline. Diets that are high in both antioxidants and certain fatty acids also slow the progression of CDS.

If you feel you pet is developing a cognitive decline and are concerned about it make sure to check with your veterinarian.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. 

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

Can a dog or cat have a stroke? That is an interesting question. In humans, strokes are the third most common cause of death (after heart disease and cancer). In dogs and cats, strokes (also known as cerebrovascular accidents) are much less common but do happen. Just as in humans, a vascular accident occurs as the result of a emboli (blood clot) or bleeding. 

Circumstances that could cause a cerebrovascular accident are: conditions that could lead to a hypercoagulable state, conditions that could cause bleeding in the brain, atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the vessel), or conditions that cause systemic hypertension. Hypercoagulable states include: Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism), immune mediated hemolytic anemia, sepsis, cancer and some others. Conditions that cause bleeding include: trauma, certain infections, congenital malformations of blood vessels in the brain, tumors, etc. Lastly, hypertension can be caused by kidney failure, heart conditions, etc.

Depending on the portion of the brain affected, the symptoms will follow. The cerebral cortex is an area where higher functions take place so we would see a decreased alertness, weakness, circling, head pressing in corners, and possible seizures. The thalmus or midbrain would affect balance and eye movement. The cerebellum controls movement so a lesion there would lead to hypermetric (jerky) movement, slowed reflexes and generalized weakness.

The best way to diagnose what type of cerebrovascular accident is with either a CT scan, or an MRI. This is tricky because there is limited availability for these tests, they are expensive, and require general anesthesia. Sometimes the patient is not stable enough for anesthesia. Most times a workup to include bloodwork, x-rays, and sometimes ultrasound will help to rule in or out concurrent diseases to help with a prognosis and to see if a CT/MRI is safe to perform or would make a difference in treatment.

Treatment usually includes supportive care (fluids, oxygen, antibiotics if indicated, etc), as well as treating any underlying/concurrent disease. Medications to prevent additional bleeding or emboli are also used. Physical therapy is performed but many times by the owners after the patient is discharged due to expense.

Prognosis depends on the area of the brain that is affected and how severe the event was. The good news is that symptoms did not usually worsen after 24-48 hours (for those pets that lived that long) so, if your pet is not too severely affected and does not worsen after the first 24-48 hours they have a chance of a longer survival period.

In conclusion, pets do have strokes. On the positive side, strokes are much less common in pets than humans. On the negative side, strokes are usually secondary to serious underlying disease which affects the short and long-term prognosis. 

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.