If your dog is wobbly and off-balance this could potentially be a sign of some serious health issues and could require immediate veterinarian attention. Failure to understand why your dog is wobbly, off-balance, or consistently falling down could be life-threatening for your dog.
Below are the Top 5 reasons why your dog is wobbly and off-balance. In general, we recommend that you see a veterinarian if your dog is older as this could potentially be a dog stroke, dog tumor, or Canine Vestibular Syndrome.
Why is my dog wobbly and off-balance?
Like in humans, the vestibular system in dogs controls their balance, equilibrium, head motion, and spatial orientation. In addition, the vestibular system in dogs helps with their motor functions such as stability and posture. The vestibular system is found in a dog’s inner ear and has several components and tracts that make up the vestibular labyrinth. Disruption to the vestibular system, whether due to a dog stroke, dog head trauma, or a transient state like intoxication will create symptoms in your dog like vertigo, loss of balance, and nausea. Also, degradation to the vestibular system itself, such as Canine Vestibular Syndrome will cause your dog to be wobbly and off-balance.
1) Dog Stroke
What is a dog stroke?
With the advent of technology with MRI and CT scans for animals, dog strokes are becoming more frequently diagnosed. In general, a dog stroke is the loss of blood flow to a dog’s brain that causes neurologic abnormalities. Such abnormalities of a dog stroke can be a reason why your dog is wobbly and off-balance.
There are two ways that your dog can have a stroke. First, an obstruction in your dog’s blood vessels, also known as an ischemic stroke, can occur due to numerous reasons like blood clots, tumor cells, parasites, or bacteria. The second kind of dog stroke is bleeding from the brain, which is called a hemorrhagic stroke. A hemorrhagic dog stroke is caused by the rupture of blood vessels from clotting disorders.
A dog stroke typically only lasts a couple of minutes, but could last for several hours or days. Typically, dog owners say that their dog is acting normal one moment and the next moment their dog is wobbly and off-balance. A stroke could happen at any time, but it typically only happens to older dogs.
Symptoms of Dog Stroke
Since dogs can’t talk, you won’t be able to immediately recognize any slurred speech or memory loss if they had a stroke. The signs of a dog stroke can be subtle, but it’s important to understand and notice the signs before they become life-threatening.
Symptoms of a dog stroke:
- Dog is wobbly and off-balance. The most common sign of a dog stroke is if they are walking abnormally, look uncoordinated, or experience loss of balance. Some owners report that their dog looks intoxicated. In severe cases, your dog will often fall down on their front legs or may tip over sideways onto the ground.
- Head is positioned sideways. Loss of spatial awareness can cause your dog to tilt their head sideways permanently. If you noticed that your dog’s head isn’t normally positioned upright then they are experiencing a dog stroke.
- Abnormal eye positioning and movements. Since dog strokes are linked to their brain, your dog may be experiencing abnormal eye movements and positioning. This includes moving their eyes back and forth, or their pupils positioned to the left or the right. Your dog won’t be able to focus its eyes correctly.
- Loss of all consciousness. Loss of consciousness happens in ischemic dog strokes. If your dog is unable to wake up or falls down and is unable to regain consciousness, this may be sign of an ischemic dog stroke.
Causes of a Dog Stroke
Dog strokes tend to only affect dogs that are very old or dogs that have a disease related to a blood clot or bleeding. Some diseases that significantly increase the chance of a dog stroke are Cushing’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and kidney disease. Most owners of older dogs who get a stroke tend to euthanize their pets as the stroke has become life-threatening.
Strokes cannot be prevented and are unfortunate life events. Certain dog breeds that are susceptible to diseases related to clots or bleeds are more likely to get a stroke. If your dog had a stroke, we recommend that you take them to a veterinarian immediately.
2) Canine Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs
What is Canine Vestibular Syndrome in dogs?
As noted above, the vestibular system in dogs connects the inner ear to the brain to process information that helps to control balance and eye movements. Any abnormality in the vestibular system can be diagnosed as Canine Vestibular Syndrome. Canine Vestibular Syndrome for dogs simply means that your dog suddenly becomes wobbly or off-balance due to degradation of the vestibular system. Canine Vestibular Syndrome for dogs is known to be called several names such as Vestibular Disease, old dog Vestibular Syndrome, or Canine Odiopathic Vestibular Syndrome. All of these syndromes and diseases essentially mean the same thing.
In order to diagnose Canine Vestibular Syndrome, your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination that involves coordination and eye movements. There are two main types of Vestibular disease: Peripheral Vestibular Disease and Central Vestibular Disease. More information on each is below.
Peripheral Vestibular Disease
Peripheral Vestibular is the portion of the labyrinth and nerve in the inner ear. Peripheral Vestibular Disease is typically due to an inner ear infection in your dog, cancer, or ruptures to the inner ear. Once the disease or infection starts interrupting the balance of your dog in their inner ear, it is known as Peripheral Vestibular Disease.
Peripheral Vestibular Disease is common in dog breeds that are prone to ear infections. If your dog has ear mites or long ears that are not regularly cleaned, they are more prone to develop Peripheral Vestibular Disease. Famous dog breeds that are notorious for developing Peripheral Vestibular Disease are cocker spaniels, hounds, or goldendoodles. In order to prevent Peripheral Vestibular Disease, it’s important that you regularly clean your dog’s ears.
Central Vestibular Disease
Unlike Peripheral Vestibular Disease, Central Vestibular Disease is the component in the vestibular system that deals with the brainstem and cerebellum. If your dog has Central Vestibular Disease it typically means that they have developed cancer and have lesions that affect the central vestibular area. Other reasons that your dog might have Central Vestibular Disease is from poison ingestion, inflammation, or inflammation to the brain area.
Symptoms of Vestibular Disease
In general, the signs of Peripheral Vestibular Disease and Central Vestibular Disease are similar. General signs of Canine Vestibular Syndrome in dogs are below:
- Dog is drooling and having difficulty eating. Typically, your dog may lose motor skills and have a lack of appetite.
- Dog is wobbly and off-balance. Coordination and balance are controlled by the vestibular system. Any abnormality will cause your dog to become wobbly and off-balance. An example of this would be that your dog keeps falling down the stairs.
- Dog is making repetitive and uncontrollable eye movements (also known as nystagmus). Look for eye movements that go side to side, up and down, or circular motion.
- Dog has a head tilt. The head typically tilts towards the direction of the loss of muscle — the loss of muscle side is typically the side of the cancer or lesion.
- Abnormal Gait. If you notice your dog walking funny or their walk is off balance they may have Vestibular Disease.
- Old dog Vestibular Disease panting. Typically, older dogs are more susceptible to Vestibular Disease and you may notice that your dog is panting uncontrollably.
Causes of a Vestibular Disease
Older dogs are more susceptible to vestibular disease which is why it is often times called Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome. In addition, canines that have large ears that can easily trap moisture and develop bacterial inner ear infections can more easily develop Peripheral Vestibular Syndrome.
3) Dog Head Trauma
We never want anything bad to happen to our dogs, but sometimes accidents do happen. If your dog fell and hit its head, chances are it developed some type of dog head trauma if they aren’t acting normally. Maybe your dog was hit by a car or accidentally dropped on the ground. Either way, it’s important to recognize dog head injury symptoms.
Dog Head Injury Symptoms:
- Lack of energy or lethargic
- Coordination problems
- Wobbly and off-balance
- Loss of consciousness
- Bleeding from the head or nose
- Unusual eye movements
Typically, in humans, we would check for memory functionality and brain function. Unfortunately, we cannot do this for our dogs. If you notice any of these symptoms for your dog’s head trauma, it’s important to get them to a veterinarian right now. These symptoms can potentially lead to significant injuries and should be dealt with immediately.
Types of Dog Head Trauma
Dogs can tolerate a significant amount of head trauma due to their skulls that are thicker than a human. However, rough dog play or if your dog fell and hit their head can cause several different types of dog head trauma. Below are the most common types of dog head trauma:
- Dog Concussion. Like humans, dogs can get concussions when they receive a traumatic injury to the brain. If you suspect that your dog had a concussion, it’s important to get them to a calm place and be observant. Make you monitor your dog’s concussion for nausea, pain, and lethargy. Dog concussions can range from mild to severe, and it’s best just to monitor your dog unless they exhibit symptoms.
- Brain swelling in dogs. Severe dog head trauma can cause significant brain swelling in dogs, this is also known as an edema. Edema causes brain swelling in a dog where the pressure can build up causing the brain to press against the skull. This will cause severe discomfort for your dog and may be fatal if left untreated.
- Dog hemorrhage. In addition to brain swelling in dogs, your dog may also get bleeding around the brain. When your dog has uncontrolled bleeding in the brain this is known as a hemorrhage. If you think the impact of a dog’s head trauma was severe enough to cause a brain injury, you need to see a veterinarian right away.
Common causes of dog head trauma:
- Dropping your dog on the ground
- Car hits your dog
- Collision with another dog’s head
- Dog runs into an object like a glass door or table while fetching a ball
Please make sure to see a veterinarian right away if you think your dog’s head trauma was severe.
4) Inner Ear Infection in Dogs
If your dog has long ears that aren’t cleaned regularly, chances are they have had an inner ear infection. The dog ear canal is an “L shape” that traps moisture. Over time, this causes bacteria and yeast to develop which causes ear infections. In addition, if your dog has ear mites, this can also lead to inner ear infections in dogs.
Symptoms of an Inner Ear Infection for Dogs:
- Dog is constantly whining
- Dog is scratching or itching their ear
- Ear discharge and bad-smelling odor
- Dog is wobbly and off-balance. You may notice that your dog keeps falling down the stairs or can’t keep its balance.
Sometimes dogs don’t exhibit many symptoms of an inner ear infection other than a slight discharge from the ear canal. It’s important to make sure that you are consistently cleaning your dog’s ear’s in order to avoid infection.
If the inner ear infection in your dog is left untreated it will begin to affect the vestibular system. The inner ear infection will cause your dog to develop Peripheral Vestibular Disease which would cause your dog to lose their balance and become wobbly.
5) Dog Tumor
A dog tumor is one of the worst diagnoses that a vet can give, but these types of cancers are extremely common. In fact, over 65 million dogs in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer each year. In addition, in 2011, cancer was the leading cause of death in older dogs from researchers at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
If a dog tumor affects a certain part of the brain, this can oftentimes cause many different symptoms like dog dizziness and balance issues. If you notice any abnormal lumps near your dog’s head then they may have a dog tumor.
Conclusion for Dog is Wobbly and Off-Balance
Dogs can experience dizziness, falling, and balance issues for a variety of reasons. Our Top 5 reasons for a wobbly and off-balance dog are a dog stroke, Canine Vestibular Syndrome, inner ear infection, dog head trauma, and dog tumors. Since many of these reasons are severe, we recommend that you see a veterinarian if your dog is wobbly and off-balance.
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Frequently asked questions:
My dog keeps falling down the stairs. What does this mean?
If your dog is on the older side then chances are they have developed some type of Canine Vestibular Syndrome. It’s normal for older dogs to lose some of their reflexes over time. If your dog is younger, check for an ear infection or try to teach them how to properly walk down the stairs in order to prevent them from falling. In any case, I would consult a veterinarian as this may be dangerous for your dog over time.
Why is my dog acting wobbly all of a sudden?
If your dog is wobbly and off-balance, this could be a sign of several health issues, and you should seek emergency veterinary help. But if you have a senior dog, it could be due to arthritis, hip dysplasia, or nerve damage.
So it really depends, but a proper diagnosis by a veterinarian is key especially when it relates to kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, heart, disease, hypertension, bleeding disorders, strokes, and even cancer.
However, if your dog is just a little bit unsteady on its feet and is not in any pain, this could be due to old age or an inner ear infection. You should seek immediate veterinary care if your dog is experiencing more serious symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or paralysis. Here are some potential causes:
- Inner/middle ear infections
- Syncope & seizures
- Infectious or inflammatory diseases (meningitis)
- Canine Vestibular Syndrome
- Central Vestibular Disease
- Head Trauma
Why is my dog walking like he is drunk?
One possible reason why your dog may be walking like he is drunk is that he could have a vestibular disease. Vestibular disease is a condition that affects the inner ear and balance center of the brain and can cause a dog to become uncoordinated and unsteady on its feet.
If your dog displays other symptoms, such as head tilt, nystagmus (abnormal eye movements), and vomiting, then the vestibular disease is likely a culprit.
However, there are other possible causes of these symptoms, so it is best to have your dog examined by a veterinarian to rule out any other potential problems.
Why is my dog lethargic and wobbly?
There are many possible reasons why your dog may be lethargic and wobbly. It could be something as simple as not getting enough exercise or being too hot or a sign of a more severe condition such as heat stroke or an infection. If your dog is older, it’s normal for them to lose some of their reflexes. With younger dogs, it’s usually an ear infection or head trauma.
Various things could cause lethargy and wobbliness, from infection and disease to pain and medication. If your dog displays other symptoms, lethargy, and wobbliness, or if the condition persists for more than a day, it is best to consult your veterinarian.
It could be due to severe chronic disease or life-threatening illness. Always check your pet’s meds to ensure that you’re administering the correct dosage that won’t cause lethargy and wobbliness. You should also make sure that there are no interactions with pet meds, And as usual, get pet insurance even if your pup is a senior. It’s never too late!
What does a stroke in a dog look like?
A stroke in a dog can cause a wide range of symptoms, depending on the severity and location of the stroke. Pet MD explains that a stroke is a loss of blood flow to brain parts that leads to neurologic abnormalities.
Two mechanisms cause strokes: an obstruction in blood vessels (ischemic strokes) due to blood clots, tumor cells, clumps of platelets, bacteria, and parasites; and bleeds in the brain (hemorrhagic strokes), which result from the rupture of blood vessels or clotting disorders.
Some common signs include:
- Weakness or paralysis in one or more limbs
- Inability to walk properly
- Loss of consciousness
- Sudden blindness or vision problems
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Head tilt
- Unusual eye movements
- Rapid onset of symptoms
- Falling to one side
- Abnormal behavior
If you think your dog may be having a stroke, it is essential to seek veterinary care immediately. Unfortunately, strikes can be fatal, so prompt treatment is necessary.
How can you tell if a dog has had a stroke?
If you think your dog may have had a stroke, there are several things you can look for. First, check for sudden changes in your dog’s behavior or appearance. This may include paralysis, weakness, loss of balance, and vision problems.
Dr. Sinott via PetMD explains that one minute owners report the pet is fine, and the next [the pet] cannot get up. These signs may last a few minutes or longer (hours to days).
Dr. Sinott says that the signs may be frightening and associated with dog discomfort, and some owners elect to euthanize their pets.
You may also notice that your dog is having trouble eating or drinking or that he is drooling more than usual. If you see any of these signs, take your dog to the vet immediately. A stroke is a severe medical emergency, and the sooner your dog is treated, the better his chances for recovery.