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Facial Stroke in Dogs: Causes, Signs and Treatment

Updated on February 19, 2016

Can Dogs Have Facial Paralysis? Katie's Story

When the vet said facial stroke is very rare in dogs, and our dog Katie's symptoms could be signs of a brain tumor, I almost fainted. One side of her face was drooping, and she could not blink her right eye or move her right ear.

We first noticed something was wrong with Katie when we saw she had food stuck between her cheek and her teeth on the right side of her face. It was a hot spring day. I cleaned out the food that was stuck in her mouth, but did not really notice anything too obvious, until she went outside and started panting because of the heat. The right side of her mouth was droopy. We freaked out. We also noticed she couldn't blink her right eye or move her right ear.

I immediately called our vet and got an appointment for the next day. But in the meantime, I went online and tried to find out what could possibly be wrong with her. I came up to a conclusion that it was either paralysis from a facial stroke, or much worse, a brain tumor. Both were rare in dogs, but a stroke was the rarer of the two. It was a very long evening until we went to see our vet the next day.

When we got to the vet's, we were hoping she would tell us that it was nothing serious, it would go away on its own, and our dog would be OK. But the news was not encouraging. She told us stroke was something very rare in dogs, so these symptoms could be related to a brain tumor. She said the only way to tell for sure was to have an MRI and CT Scan. For this we needed to see an animal neurologist.

At the time were living in a rural town in Illinois, about five hours away from Chicago. We went home and I found a couple places in Chicago area that did these tests. But they would cost at least $1500. This was in spring 2009; with our small business hit by the economy, we were in no position to afford it. And even if we did and they found out she had a brain tumor, we were then looking at more than $10,000 for this kind of surgery, which would not even guarantee a complete recovery. I was in tears. I felt so hopeless and so terrified, and so guilty that I wasn't in a position to help her get better.

Dogs Get Facial Paralysis; It's "Idiopathic"

Dogs do get facial paralysis, a condition that is called Bell's palsy in humans. Although sometimes there can be an underlying reason such as a brain tumor, most of the time the cause of facial paralysis is unknown, meaning it's an "idiopathic" illness.

A Frightening Time

Our vet told us that if, in fact, these signs were caused by a brain tumor, we would start seeing some other signs soon. For example, she would have changes in behavior; she might become aggressive, or be depressed and hide in a corner avoiding contact with us. She would feel dizzy and nauseated. Or she would walk in circles in one direction, she would lose her balance, she would start having seizures... Very, very scary symptoms.

In the meantime, she prescribed some strong antibiotics for any kind of bacterial infection, and steroids for even worse infections such as meningoencephalitis. She said sometimes things like this occur without any known causes, meaning they are idiopathic, but again, it was so rare.

Needless to say we went home extremely frightened, not knowing how to get through this, but we knew we had to stay strong for Katie, and give her the medication hoping it would help. The steroids made her very weak, but her appetite was good, she wasn't vomiting, and she wasn't acting strange. After two weeks, the pills were done and there was nothing else we could do to help. We never gave up hoping, and we kept believing that it was facial stroke, until one morning, we saw the other side of her face was droopy as well.

Now she wasn't able to blink her eyes at all, nor move her ears or her cheek. We took her back to the vet's, and of course she was telling us to be prepared for the worst. During this time, we massaged Katie's face, ears, and eyes every time we got the chance, just so the muscles on her face and around her head wouldn't grow weaker and start shrinking. The vet said we would soon see a gap on her head, right by her ear, because the muscles would shrink. So we kept giving her massages five or six times a day, for a good 10 or 15 minutes each time. She seemed to enjoy them, actually; she loves the attention.

After a couple of months we started to see some improvement. She was able to move her eyelids halfway down, and her ears responded to us tickling them. Although her face was still droopy, no more food was getting stuck between her teeth and her cheeks. I can't tell you how great it felt. We were now convinced that it was not a brain tumor; it was a rare double-sided stroke, and she was slowly but surely getting over it.

It took probably six or seven months for her to get back to normal, but today she is still alive and doing well. 90% of the symptoms disappeared during this period. There are still some signs, but you need to examine her really closely to notice them. For example, at times she can't blink both her eyes at the same time. When she perks her ears, one moves slightly more than the other. But in the last few weeks, even after two years, things still continue to get better. There are no visible signs left, and I believe our massages were a big help in her improvement.

Signs of Canine Facial Stroke: What You Need to Watch For

  • Droopiness on one side of the face (sometimes both sides but it's very rare).
  • Inability to blink on one side.
  • Inability to move one ear.
  • Food getting stuck between the cheek and teeth.
  • Tilting the head to one side.
  • Lack of coordination; clumsiness.
  • Abnormal eye movements; for example, an eye rolling upwards when the dog tries to blink.
  • Change in behavior, like looking depressed.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Feeling tired.

What to Do? Treatment Options

Take your dog to the vet immediately. Although most of the time a facial stroke, like Bell's palsy, occurs for unknown reasons (idiopathic), sometimes these symptoms are signs of another underlying illness, like infection in the ear canal, meningoencephalitis (which can affect your dog's brain), or canine vestibular syndrome (usually in old dogs). These symptoms might also be due to a brain tumor, as our vet warned us.

Chances are the veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics and steroids for your dog. This is a very typical treatment as it will help get rid of any infections. In the meantime, you need to stay on top of massaging your dog's face. Think of this as like the physical therapy we humans go through after having a stroke. It is very important to keep the muscles active to prevent them from getting weaker and shrinking. The rest is pretty much a "wait and see" process for both you and your dog.

How to Massage Your Dog's Face: Does it Really Work?

This is a slow process: you won't see an improvement in days or sometimes even in weeks. It will take months for your dog to get back to normal, if he or she ever does. But be patient and repeat these steps during the day whenever you get the chance. Try to massage for at least 10 or 15 minutes. Every time your dog sits near you, you can use this time for the massage. They love it!

  • Put your fingers on your dog's cheeks and gently massage them in a circular motion.
  • Gently press your index fingers horizontally on your dog's eyelids and massage them in a circular motion and up and down, lifting the eyelids up and then down.
  • Put your fingers on your dog's head, right above her ears, and gently massage in a circular motion. You can also test if your dog is making an improvement by tickling her ears.
  • With the tips of your index fingers, move the corners of your dog's lips up and down, and in a circular motion. This will help with the droopy mouth.

Remember, healing from a stroke is a very slow process. You won't see an improvement in days or weeks. It will take several months.

One thing I made sure I did was give Katie organic vitamins during this process, because antibiotics and steroids were making her weak and killing good bacteria as well as the bad ones. Choose organic foods and dietary supplements for your pets to help prevent other health problems like cancer and allergies.

As you can see in this picture, Katie still has a lazy eye. But it has gotten so much better since the time she had her stroke that now it is barely noticeable.

Has your dog ever experienced facial stroke?

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    • profile image

      Sam 2 months ago

      Our dog has same facial paralysis most likely caused by middle ear infection. Our vet told us dogs have different nerve symptoms and Face drooping is not a sign of a stroke in a dog ?

      We are on antibiotics and 3 days in still dropping face/eye doesn't blink.

      Is it possible your dog had a middle ear infection because of the floppy ears like our dog has which are prone to infection?

    • profile image

      Cindy 5 months ago

      I'm going through this same thing right now with my 7 year old Hunter. However he has suffered with seizures since he was 4. I haven't witnessed a seizure in at least a month but it could happen while we are at work.

      Did your dog quit drinking water like they normally would? He has the head tilt and clumsiness as well as facial paralysis

    • profile image

      vllancaster 8 months ago

      Thank you for your story. My Bella has had the same thing happen to her. I knew something is wrong I just didn't know what until I read your story. We have been treating an ear infection for 3 weeks. I think this started before the infection as she did the chewing motion with her mouth. I want to personally thank you for your story as the pointers for therapy as she did love the massage. She purred like a cat LOL. My vet looked at her this week when I told him she looked like she has a droop to her face. He said her face didnt appear not to be the same. It's a slight droop but I noticed it. The drooling just started yesterday which made me check her mouth and the food was between her cheek. I clean it now each time she eats with a tissue because I'm scared she will choke. I will be going back to the vet to let him read your story and check her again. Thank you again for your story. I cried and cried until almost the end when I realized you dog is still here.

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      John Ryan 8 months ago

      all of the symptoms described after having pro heart injection, 3days the right side, then 2 weeks later the left. Vets are plucking at straws,help or advise needed

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      Denise 9 months ago

      My poor baby jack has this and seizures. I have had him since he was 6 weeks old. He is 11 years old. He is blue nose pit. I love my dog with everything in me.

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      Nancy 11 months ago

      Hi, I noticed my sweet 13 year old Cali (Shetland Sheepdog) wasn't blinking her right eye and it was super watery. I also noticed her right ear wasn't moving like her left, and right bottom lip was droopier. Took her to the vet and they said it was either a stroke, a brain tumor, or she banged her head too hard. I literally cried like a baby at the vet. Started calling vet specialty clinics around the area and the prices they told me made my heart sink. I started researching dog brain tumor symptoms and she has NONE of them. She wants to play, wants to go for walks, and bugged me for dinner as usual. She's not off-balance, walking in a circle, or seem irritable. I started massaging her face tonight, and will ask the vet for antibiotics tomorrow. I really hope these symptoms will go away soon, it breaks my heart to think she might be slightly uncomfortable...

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      Norma Murphy 11 months ago

      Thank you for sharing your story. Your suggestion to do massage is great. So glad you dog is doing better.

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      Fern 11 months ago

      My sweet cavalier King Charles spaniel, Charlie, 9 years old, just diagnosed with Bells Palsey at an Animal ER. His jaw hangs low with a droopy eye. Animal hospital wanted to keep him over night. I said no. Took him home where he is more comfy. Have to feed him wet food with water mixed in - like a soup. He eats it but takes him 15 or so minutes. Looks like it's hard to swallow. The gave him eye drops for the eye. He goes to his reg vet for a blood draw, but don't think they will find anything. Will ask for a steroid and antibiotics. From reading above comments - my boy should have that. Thanks for info.

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      Mindy 13 months ago

      We are impatiently waiting to take our 12 year old lab mix into the vet. Suddenly yesterday his left side of his face became droopy and almost swollen, he was still eating and drinking so I thought maybe he got bit by something. He is on Rimadyl for pain daily so when he took his evening pill I gave him a benadryl. This morning it has been worse, yesterday it was just the left side, today it is his right side too, not as bad but similar. To look at me he can only see out of a tiny slit in the right eye. I am worried sick. We will know soon.....

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      Minnie 15 months ago

      My 8 y/0 corgi has been diagnosed with Horner syndrome. The rt side of her face is sagging. She drools water when she drinks, her eye does not blink, and her ear is floppy. We gave her a flee treatment(new brand to us) just days before we noticed the drooping. I felt it was more injury related. Having read everyone's comments, I am not sure. We took her to the vet and was diagnosed with Horners syndrome. I was concerned about the flea med so I called the company and they said that they had never had a problem with paralysis. She has been on diffferent flea treatments for 6 years. My vet called it idiopathic paralysis - we will never know the cause. She does hold her head at a very slight tilt. She has a normal appetite and likes to play ball non-stop. The paralysis doesn't seem to have gotten better. Again, there are so many causes of this set of symtons that all suspicions should be investigated.

    • profile image

      Sharon 16 months ago

      Cali, 6 yr. old cocker spaniel has left side of face a little droopy and has such extreme thick drool with usually a piece of food hanging from it. Vet said today Bell's palsy, I so hope it's only temporary. Her eye is not drooping. I will try the message. Thanks and much love to you and Katie.

    • profile image

      Beagle Mom 17 months ago

      Our beagle Jonas started with jaw tremors on May 1st. We automatically assumed it was the new bug and weed spray we had just covered our lawn with. Even tho the bottle read organic and pet friendly we feel that it may have caused this problem for our beagle. We waited 24 hrs before letting him out on the lawn but that didn't help. He started with tremors in his jaw and within a day or so his entire right side had suffered paralysis. We rushed him to the vet. First thing she said was Old Dog Vestibular Disease but our pup was only 7 years old. She gave him antibiotics and nausea meds cause by this time he was walking to one side, had no appetite, and was hiding from us in dark places. His eyes were shifting rapidly left and right as if he was witnessing a tennis match. It was awful. Just heart breaking. After a week on his meds he became lively again but the facial paralysis was still present. 20 days later and his face is still dropping and was drooling so much. Vet referred us to a neurologist which we are supposed to see this week but after reading all of your posts I think we are going to wait as I feel that we have some hope now. Prayers for all of our four legged fur babies and thank you all

      For sharing your stories.

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      Christine 19 months ago

      We are going through this with our 10 year old Golden Retriever. She is on steroids at the moment. This is very informational as we were told we can investigate further with MRI. I am thinking there is a lot of hope now after reading this. She lost balance a bit as I am sure it is due to paralysis of her ear. It started out slow a couple of weeks ago and the vet put her on antibiotic and steroid. Then all of a sudden on Sunday she got much worse. She couldnt walk down stairs and when she would shake she would fall. She wouldn't eat her breakfast and if you knew her that NEVER happens! She has been full of piss and vinegar the last couple of days. Not sure if it is the new round of steroids (higher dose), but we are so happy about that. She is eating again and walking down stairs. The facial paralysis is pretty dramatic, but I am happy to have her back to some extent. Hopefully each week she will get better and better.

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      Dan 19 months ago

      My little Pomeranian, Quincy, has experienced a facial stroke and his left eye doesn't blink and the left side of his mouth and his tongue droop on that side. Thanks so much for the info. Will try the massages with hope that he will improve over time!!!

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      Norah 19 months ago

      Thank you. I now have hope for our beloved Georgie who has identical symptoms

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      kate 2 years ago

      The exact same thing is happening to my dog at the moment, he carnt close his right eye and his mouth is droopy on the right side. We took him to the vets and they told me the exact same thing. He is still on his medication at the moment. I'll try the massage and hope for the best. Thankyou for your story. I hope my dog is just as lucky.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      You have written a very useful hub that had much information. Katie looks just like my Trixie, could be twins.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thank You for your story. So happy for Katie's recovery. My 6 year old Cocker Mix was diagnosed with facial nerve paralysis on her left side. A month prior I had her to the vet for a facial "hotspot" on her left side. I found an article suggesting a link between the lesion/ dermatitis and the paralysis. Has anyone had a similar situation? I've started massaging her facial areas. Your story was so helpful. Katie is so sweet, Thanks Again!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      MY beautiful lab X retriever has just been diagnosed with facial paralysis. She refuses to drink. I have been syringing fluid into her today. I have my suspicions about an oral flea treatment I used called Comfortis because we were not having any luck with Advantage. Maybe its not related but if I had the last fortnight over I would not give it to her. Anything we ingest affects us. It is great to read Katie's story and know she survived. My lovely girl Sandy is only six. I am going to try the massage however I am finding the biggest problem is the fact that Sandy is getting depressed. It is hard to eat and so everything has to be soft, and she keeps biting her lip, and her lip gets caught inside her mouth.I wish everyone luck-how unpleasant this is for our dogs.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      My dog has just had a facial stroke. Your article was very helpful and we are starting the massages today. Wish us luck!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Do you know if it is possible for this to be a result of flea medicine? I recently changed my dogs flea medication from Advantix to Advantage. The Advantix just wasn't working. I gave her the Advantage 9/23 and 10/17 she started the facial paralysis and shortly after the staggering and falling and pulling to the left when she walked. We took her to the vet because she acted like she had a stroke. The vet called it bell's palsy, and gave her steroids and antibioticis (just in case). In a week's time, she had perked back up where she just leaned her head to the left, but could walk straight and she had stopped falling. We were elated because we were worried it was brain cancer. She was almost totally better, and I mean her face was almost back to normal and EVERYTHING on a Friday. That night she was due her Advantage, so I gave it to her. Saturday night she fell and it was all downhill from there. We have gotten more shots and medicines, but she isn't perking back up like she did before, but I just gave her the medicine. It will last longer in her system this time. Is this a coincidence you think? I actually went to the vet BEFORE all this started to get the pill that got rid of fleas (it's been a terrible flea season) and he said I couldn't give her the pill because she has a history of seizures. She has had in the past really mild seizures. The only warning on the pill from vets is to not give to animals with seizures. Now, I'm no rocket scientist, but if the medicine that is in the pill is the medicine that is in the Advantage, couldn't it be possible this is causing her major seizures or strokes (or whatever is causing all this behavior)?? If so, is there anything that anyone knows of that can flush this out of her system quickly. She can't wait until it wears off. She is getting worse. We can't lose her.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My Cavalier Spaniel Annabelle just was seen by our vet for this. Thank you for your story it is most encouraging and informative.This is a very scary experience to go through and your story helped us.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great read and assurance that there is hope still. Our cocker spaniel (10) yrs ago had same symptoms but diagnosed with Bells Palsy. Antibiotics and steroids seemed to work. We now have a springer spaniel with exact issues two months ago as "Katie". Medications done and now we will be more apt to message as described. Our vet actually suggested we message as his uncle believes doing so helped him recover from a stroke faster. thanks again for sharing ang giving us hope.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My Golden Retriever,Molly suffered what the vet told me was Bells Palsy 9 years ago,I did not know about massage so I just took extra care of her,the left side of her face had dropped considerably,but after about 9 months it had returned to normal,and then over compensated a little,so she has a slightly lopsided smile,she was 15 last February and still happy,so keep the faith

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      we think our dog has the same ....and have had her to numerous vets ..but they can't seem to find out what is wrong with her ..this all makes sense to me ..but the vets will not consider it ...i am going to try the massage and see if it helps .

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great article - hopeful, constructive and positive. We appreciate it and so will our dog. Thank you for sharing.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      My beagle recently has been diagnosed with facial paralysis and its very encouraging to hear your story!! Thank you for sharing it!!

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      RinchenChodron 5 years ago

      What a great service to write this lens. I'm sure it will be helpful to other dog owners. Well written.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      My dog Foxy just recently suffered something that seems to be a facial stroke or something similar. The entire right side of her face is as you described Katie went through. We're still doing some testing but I've started to massage her face already. After reading this I have so much more hope for Foxy and that she will be back to normal [or mostly normal] eventually. Thank you for sharing your story and information!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I am so glad to read this. My dog Roxy is going through the exact same thing Katie went through. It has been a little over a month and just a few days ago I noticed the other side of her face was doing the same thing as her right. The steroids and antibiotics the vet gave her really didn't do anything. I will massage her face as often as I can as I believe that will help and even if it doesn't she loves it. Thanks for the story. I was getting scared this was going to get so much worse for my Roxy but now, after reading this, I have hope she will be ok.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hi, I noticed that Katie was a beagle (or at least a mix) I have a 7 year old beagle named Sadie and two days ago I noticed that half of her face was almost swollen and she was drooling. I thought maybe she got a hold of a bug that stung her so we just kept an eye on it. Then yesturday I noticed she couldn't blink her left eye and the whole left side of her face was droopy. I freaked out and called the vet. He wasn't sure what it was, but said maybe random facial peralysis, maybe an infection or maybe... A tumor. I was a wreck. He gave me antibiotics and steroids like they did with your Katie. She acts normally though; she plays, barks, runs and eats fine. I was wondering if maybe this is something that happens to beagles a lot...? I will massage her face everyday, I just want me baby girl to be alright.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 5 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I'm so happy that Katie has such loving keepers. :)

    • Vikk Simmons profile image

      'Vikk Simmons 5 years ago from Houston

      Wow, I had no idea. Thanks for giving me the heads up. Will save this just in case.

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      Once again, thanks for teaching me something I didn't know.

    • ResJes profile image

      Jessi 6 years ago from United States

      I almost cried when reading this lens...That's fantastic that Katie is okay! I had a dog who died from PLE..We spent hundreds and then thousands to cure him but he ended up succumbing to the illness. He was going to go to an animal hospital and that was going to be about $10 grand. He passed away just before his fourth birthday.I'm glad you could save your dog and she still has a happy life. :)

    • KANEsUgAr profile image

      KANEsUgAr 6 years ago

      Aww these dogs are so cute. I didn't know dogs get strokes.

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      BeyondRoses 6 years ago

      So much thoughtful info about canine facial paralysis ... so glad you have found ways to help Katie. She's a sweetie!

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 6 years ago

      This is the first time I have heard of canine facial paralysis.. Thank you for sharing such a heart-tugging story.

    • kwj profile image

      kwj 6 years ago

      What a thoughtful lens about a sad subject. Thankfully whilst our old labrador Daisy has ailments she has thankfully not suffered anything like this.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 6 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Thanks for sharing your story about Katie. Our dog, Lana, is very much a part of our family too. I wasn't aware this could happen to dogs. Thanks for keeping us informed about the signs of canine facial stroke.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is such important information for dog owners. I have just now featured it on my I Want a Dog lens. Katie is a love!

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      A squid angel blessing for Katie - thanks for being there for her -:)

    • sidther lm profile image

      sidther lm 6 years ago

      Katie is so adoreable! Glad she is feeling so much better since her stroke. This was a very informative lens. Lenrolled

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very thoughtful and well covered. And Katie is cute and is blessed. :)

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      Linda Hahn 6 years ago from California

      I had a Katie dog that I loved very much.