Overview • “Stupor” is the medical term for impaired consciousness, in which the pet must be stimulated to be awakened • “Coma” is the medical term for unconsciousness or lack of consciousness

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Stupor and Coma 




“Stupor” is the medical term for impaired consciousness, in which the pet must be stimulated to be awakened 


“Coma” is the medical term for unconsciousness or lack of consciousness, in which the pet cannot be stimulated 

to be awakened 









The pet may have had trauma or unsupervised roaming, or may have medical problems (such as diabetes 

mellitus, low blood sugar [known as “hypoglycemia”], heart problems, kidney failure, liver failure, or cancer) 

that cau various signs other than stupor or coma 


Onset of stupor or coma may be sudden (acute) or slowly progressive, depending on underlying cause 


Severely low body temperature (known as “severe hypothermia”) or severely high body temperature (known as 

“severe hyperthermia”) 


Evidence of bleeding—small, pinpoint areas of bleeding (known as “petechiae”); bruises or purplish patches 

under the skin, due to bleeding (known as “ecchymoses”) 


Bluish discoloration of the skin and moist tissues (known as “mucous membranes”) of the body caused by 

inadequate oxygen levels in the red blood cells (condition known as “cyanosis”) 


Heart or breathing abnormalities 


High blood pressure (known as “hypertension”) 


Nervous system abnormalities (such as abnormal pupils or short, rapid movements of the eyeball [known as 




Medications—narcotics; depressants; ivermectin 


Structural or anatomic abnormalities—hydrocephalus (condition characterized by fluid buildup in the brain; 

also known as “water on the brain”) 


Metabolic abnormalities—numerous abnormalities, such as severely low blood sugar (severe hypoglycemia); 

high blood sugar (known as “hyperglycemia”); high levels of sodium in the blood (known as “hypernatremia”); 

low levels of sodium in the blood (known as “hyponatremia”); nervous system disorder caused by accumulation 

of ammonia in the system due to inability of the liver to rid the body of ammonia (known as “hepatic 

encephalopathy”); low levels of oxygen in the blood (known as “hypoxemia”); increased levels of carbon dioxide 

in the blood (known as “hypercarbia”); low body temperature (hypothermia); high body temperature 

(hyperthermia); low blood pressure (known as “hypotension”); blood-clotting disorders (known as 

“coagulopathies”); kidney failure 


Nutritional disorders—low blood sugar (hypoglycemia); thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency 


Primary tumors or cancer involving the brain—meningioma; astrocytoma; gliomas; choroid plexus papilloma; 

pituitary adenoma; others 


Cancer that has spread to the brain (known as “metastatic cancer”)—hemangiosarcoma; lymphoma; breast 

cancer (known as “mammary carcinoma”); others 


Inflammatory noninfectious disease—granulomatous meningoencephalomyelitis (nodular inflammation of the 

brain, spinal cord and their surrounding membranes [the membranes are known as “meninges”]) 


Infectious diseases—bacterial infections; viral infections (such as canine distemper, feline infectious peritonitis 

[FIP]); parasitic infections; protozoal infections (such as neosporosis, toxoplasmosis); fungal infections (such as 

cryptococcosis, blastomycosis, histoplasmosis, coccidioidomycosis, actinomycosis); rickettsial infections 


Unknown cause (so-called “idiopathic disease”)—epilepsy 


Immune-mediated disease—inflammation of blood vessels (known as “vasculitis”) and low platelet count 

(known as “thrombocytopenia”) leading to bleeding; “platelets” and “thrombocytes” are names for the normal 

cell fragments that originate in the bone marrow and travel in the blood as it circulates through the body; 

platelets act to “plug” tears in the blood vessels and to stop bleeding 




Poisons—ethylene glycol (found in antifreeze); lead; rodenticide anticoagulants (“rat bait”); others 


Vascular—bleeding disorders, high blood pressure (hypertension); sudden lack of blood supply that leads to 

death of tissues (known as “infarction”), such as seen in feline ischemic encephalopathy or migrating adult 

heartworm in the brain 



Diabetes mellitus (“sugar diabetes”)—insulin therapy 


Tumor of the pancreas involving the cells that secrete insulin (known as an “insulinoma”) 


Severe heat or cold exposure without protection to maintain body temperature within normal limits 


Free-roaming pets—trauma 


Young and unvaccinated pets 




Maintain blood pressure; avoid high blood pressure (hypertension) 


Maintain hydration—cautious use of fluids, as they can contribute to fluid buildup in the brain (known as 

“cerebral edema”)  


The head should be level with the body or elevated to a 20° angle; the head should never be lower than the body 

to avoid increase in pressure within the skull/brain (known as “intracranial pressure”) 


Prevent thrashing, seizures, or any other form of uncontrolled motor activity; may elevate pressure within the 

skull/brain (intracranial pressure); medications to cause relaxation or to control seizures (such as diazepam, 

midazolam, or propofol) may be required 


Meticulous nursing care to prevent secondary complications—eye lubrication to keep the eyes moist; sterile 

technique with placement of catheters; turning periodically to avoid lung congestion and development of “bed 

sores” (known as “decubital ulcers”)  


Drainage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in some cases, if critical elevation of pressure within the skull/brain 

(intracranial pressure) does not respond to medical treatment 



Nutrition—maintain during the unconscious period with nutrients administered through feeding tubes or by 

intravenous routes; adjust nutritional requirements 



Surgical decompression and exploration—seriously consider if nervous system signs worsen, including 

progressive brain dysfunction with a history of trauma or bleeding, high pressure within the skull/brain 

(intracranial pressure) that is not responsive to medical therapy, depressed skull-fracture fragments, and 

penetrating foreign body 


Medications presented in this section are intended to provide general information about possible treatment. The 

treatment for a particular condition may evolve as medical advances are made; therefore, the medications should 

not be considered as all inclusive 



Increased ventilation to remove excess carbon dioxide from the body (known as “hyperventilation”) or 

medication to remove excess fluid from the brain (known as a “diuretic”), such as furosemide or mannitol 


Consider medication to control seizures (such as phenobarbital), if ongoing seizure activity suspected 



Steroids—to treat inflammatory and space-occupying abnormalities within the skull/brain 


Lactulose enemas and fluid support—to treat hepatic encephalopathy (nervous system disorder caused by 

accumulation of ammonia in the system due to inability of the liver to rid the body of ammonia) 


Increase urine production by administration of fluids (known as “fluid diuresis”)—to treat kidney failure 


Rehydration and insulin—to treat diabetes mellitus (“sugar diabetes”; lower blood sugar (glucose) slowly 


Glucose supplementation—to treat low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) 


Fluid support of blood volume; cool body temperature—to treat high body temperature (hyperthermia) 


Fluid support of blood volume; warm body temperature—to treat low body temperature (hypothermia) 


Flush out the stomach (known as “gastric lavage”) and instill activated charcoal—to treat suspected ingestion of 

a poison (treatment determined by type of poison) 


Specific poisons may require specific treatments (such as administration of an antidote) 


Antibiotics—examples include trimethoprim-sulfa, doxycycline, and metronidazole, and first-generation 



Adjust fluid selection to correct electrolyte disorders 


Thiamine—to treat thiamine deficiency 


Drugs that improve the propulsion of contents through the stomach and intestines (known as “gastrointestinal 

prokinetic agents” or “motility modifiers”), such as cisapride, may be necessary 

Follow-Up Care 



Serial nervous system examinations—detect deterioration that warrants aggressive therapeutic intervention 


Blood pressure—keep fluid therapy adequate for normal blood flow, while avoiding high blood pressure 



Blood gases (measurements of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in arterial blood)—assess need for oxygen 

supplementation or ventilation; monitor carbon dioxide levels when hyperventilating 


Blood glucose—ensure adequate level to maintain brain functions 


Electrocardiogram (ECG, a recording of the electrical activity of the heart)—detect irregular heartbeats (known 

as “arrhythmias”) that may affect blood flow and oxygen levels 


Monitor pressure within the skull/brain (intracranial pressure), if have necessary monitoring instrumentation—

detect marked elevations; track success of treatment 


Electrolytes—detect increased levels of sodium in the blood (hypernatremia) and decreased levels of potassium 

in the blood (known as “hypokalemia”) 



Keep pets confined or leashed 


Prevent exposure to poisons or in-home medications 


Routine health-care program to minimize infectious and metabolic disease complications 



Residual nervous system deficits, such as seizures 


Complications consistent with underlying disease 



Vary with underlying cause 


Prognosis is worse with cases of brainstem disease than with disease of the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of the 




Enter notes here 























Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Canine and Feline, Fifth Edition, Larry P. Tilley and Francis W.K. Smith, Jr. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, 


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