This content was reviewed by veterinarian Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM.
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Pet parents like you encounter issues with their dogs daily that they have questions about. Here we explore all of your questions about dogs falling over and losing balance.
Note: if your dog can’t get up, that’s an entirely separate issue that we’ve written about to help you understand what may be going on with your dog.
Many pet parents ask the following questions:
- Drunk & Wobbly:
- Why is my dog acting drunk?
- My dog is acting drunk and wobbly; why?
- Why is my dog disoriented?
- Why is my dog off balance?
- My dog is disoriented, unbalanced, and confused; why?
- Why can’t my dog keep his balance?
- Why is my dog stumbling to one side?
- Why is my dog falling over and throwing up?
- Why is my senior dog falling over?
All of these questions can lead to the same diagnosis: vestibular disease.
Vestibular disease is the sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance. The vestibular system is responsible for maintaining balance in your dog. There are two parts to the vestibular system: the peripheral portion (inner and middle ear) and the central portion (brain).
Vestibular disease is commonly diagnosed in old dogs and is also referred to as old dog syndrome and canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome. So, if you have an old dog falling down, this could be the cause.
Many pet parents have described symptoms as:
- Dog falling over like drunk, or dog is acting drunk and wobbly
- Dog unsteady on feet suddenly, or my dog is wobbly and off-balance
- Dog walks in circles and is disoriented, or dog keeps walking in circles and falling over
- Falling to one side
- Dog walking sideways
- Dog losing balance in hind legs
- Dog stumbling on front legs
From a medical standpoint, symptoms of vestibular disease include:
- Abnormal eye movements
- Head tilt
- Hesitant to stand or walk
- Sudden loss of balance
If your dog is wobbly and disoriented or experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should call your vet and have your dog seen.
Some pet parents ask:
- Why is my dog falling over and peeing?
- Why is my dog throwing up and falling over?
Did you know, loss of control over the bladder and bowels after falling over and a dog falling over and throwing up can both be symptoms of a stroke? Additional dog stroke symptoms include:
- Loss of balance
- Loss of consciousness
- Head tilt
- Abnormal eye movement
- Impaired vision
- Acute weakness or paralysis in one or more limbs
- Pacing, circling, or turning the wrong way when called
A stroke occurs when there’s a sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain. Dog strokes can happen without warning. If you think your dog has experienced a stroke, seek veterinary care immediately.
My dog coughs and falls over; what’s wrong with him? Your dog may be experiencing a syncope (the medical term for fainting) if the dog coughs and then falls over.
Syncope occurs when a dog’s brain is being deprived of energy, usually oxygen or glucose. Most syncopal events last only a short time, from as little as a few seconds to several minutes.
Syncope isn’t a disease on its own that dogs are diagnosed with. Rather, it’s a symptom of another problem, such as an abnormal heart rhythm.
Syncope and seizures can be commonly confused with one another. However, if coughing triggers the event, it’s a good sign that your dog is experiencing a syncope and not a seizure.
It’s common for dogs that experience syncopal episodes to experience more in the future, and chances are they could be more severe than the previous ones.
It’s important to determine your dog’s underlying cause for the cough to address the syncope issue appropriately. Contact your vet to discuss potential underlying issues.
Why is my dog shaking and falling over? Why is my dog losing balance and shaking? My dog stiffens up and falls over; why? Your dog could be experiencing a type of seizure.
Seizures can manifest differently for various dogs, so your dog may not experience what you generally attribute as being a sign of a seizure. However, stiffening up and falling over or your dog falling over and shaking could be due to a seizure.
If you think your dog has experienced a seizure, call your veterinarian.
My dog keeps falling down the stairs; why? If your dog falls off stairs regularly, it could be something as simple as him not having enough grip. However, if you have carpeted stairs, this probably isn’t the case for you.
If your dog keeps falling down the stairs, it may not be a stair issue, it may be a health issue. Some medical issues that make it difficult for dogs to walk up and down the stairs include:
- Hip and hind leg problems (e.g., hip dysplasia, CCL tear, etc.)
- Other joint issues (e.g., elbow dysplasia)
- Nerve damage
- Vestibular disease
Next time your dog goes up or down the stairs, look closely for any additional clues. For example:
- A dog who hops up the stairs may have a hip issue
- A dog who stumbles down the stairs may have joint issues, such as arthritis
- A dog who leans against the wall while going up or down the stairs may have a neurological issue
If you think your dog’s difficulty with stairs is due to a health issue, you should schedule a vet appointment as soon as possible. If caught early, many of these illnesses can be manageable and increase your dog’s quality of life, more so than if they were left untreated.
Dogs suffering from Cushing’s disease may be more tired or lethargic, leading to them falling down more. If you notice your dog with Cushing’s is falling down, you should notify your vet immediately.
If your dog has started to walk sideways, it’s best to have him evaluated by a veterinarian for an underlying condition.
Does reading this article cause you concern about your dog’s future health? Maybe he’s as fit as a fiddle right now, but did you know dogs are more likely to experience health issues as they age?
That’s why we recommend purchasing pet insurance while your dog is young, so you can have coverage for as many ailments as possible without worry about pre-existing conditions being excluded from your coverage.
To learn more about pet insurance and find out if it’s a good option for you, read our pet insurance 101 guide.Tagged With: Brain, Reviewed By Dr. Pendergrass, DVM