Is your dog or cat staggering, stumbling and falling over? This may be due to one or more underlying medical issues, including stroke, injury, an infection or poisoning. Our Baltimore vets explain why you should take your pet to an animal hospital right away.
Why is my dog or cat staggering?
If your dog or cat can't stand up or keeps falling over, they may be suffering from any number of the serious health issues we'll list in this post. This means your pet will need immediate emergency care and you should take them to a veterinary hospital right away.
Middle or inner ear infections are a common cause of loss of balance in both dogs and cats. If your pet has an ear infection, you might also notice additional symptoms such as scratching near the ear, walking in circles, head shaking, and eye flicking, along with swelling, discharge, redness, and odor in or around the ear that's affected.
Injuries including inner ear damage and head trauma can cause pets to lose their balance. It can sometimes be challenging to tell if your pet is injured as both dogs and cats tend to mask pain. Symptoms that your pet may be in pain include slowed reflexes, change in appetite, heavy panting, biting or licking a wounded area, heavy panting, reluctance to lie down or put pressure on the area, and anxiety.
This condition is associated with sensory dysfunction in the nervous system and leads to a loss of coordination in the head, limbs or back end. Dogs and cats can be impacted by three types of ataxia, including cerebellar, sensory and vestibular. The condition can be caused by a wide range of diseases.
Damage to the cerebellum causes cerebellar ataxia, while sensory ataxia is caused by the spinal cord being compressed to a bulging intervertebral disk or tumor. Vestibular ataxia is due to an issue with the brainstem or inner ear.
In addition to the stumbling, staggering and falling over common to other health conditions, common symptoms of ataxia in dogs and cats include swaying, abnormal walking (taking large steps) weakness, and tremors in the head and body. You might also notice head tilting, lethargy, difficulty hearing, lack of appetite, behavior changes.
Cats with sudden onset of ataxia often roll or fall to one side and experience significant nausea due to feeling so unsteady. Cats with chronic ataxia will generally adjust over time and are less likely to feel nauseated.
Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain can cause an animal to stagger or fall over. Brain inflammation can be caused by fungal infections, parasites and tick-borne diseases. Seizures, head tilt to either side, facial paralysis, fever, decreased consciousness and depression are other symptoms of encephalitis.
Older pets may be especially vulnerable to brain tumors, which can lead to staggering, stumbling or general loss of balance. Other symptoms of a brain tumor will vary depending on the tumor's location and include changes in appetite or behavior, signs of pain, seizures, swaying, a wide stance, head tilting or tremors, pacing, flicking of the eye and lack of coordination.
While strokes in dogs are fairly uncommon, they can occur. In cats, strokes are most commonly diagnosed in kitties that are around nine years old. They seem to occur less frequently in pets than in people and can be the result of high blood pressure, hemorrhage, blood clots, rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, migrating worms, head trauma or other serious distorders.
If your dog is staggering like he is drunk, he may have had a stroke. Stroke symptoms in both dogs and cats can also include circling, unsteadiness while walking, unequal pupil sizes, abnormal eye movements, loss of vision or balance, falling down, head pressing (potentially as a result of a headache), altered mental state, muscle spasms or head tilt.
Common Remedies for Loss of Balance in Pets
If your cat or dog can't walk or stand, and is staggering or falling over, take them to the vet as soon as possible. One of our veterinarians will be able to diagnose the issue and recommend a treatment option depending on the problem.
Treatment options vary widely depending on diagnosis, and can range from medications to surgery, combinations of different types of therapies, physical rehabilitation and more.
When to Seek Emergency Care
Any dog or cat that is staggering, stumbling or falling over requires immediate veterinary attention, since they may be suffering from pain and other symptoms, and their life may be in danger. Time may be a critical factor in their survival and prognosis.
At Falls Road Animal Hospital, we provide emergency veterinary care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. One of our veterinarians can examine your pet, diagnose the issue and provide compassionate care and treatment. We may also recommend follow-up care or make referrals to experienced specialists.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.