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Help, My Dog is Staggering Like Drunk!

If your dog is staggering, stumbling, or falling over, it could be the result of a number of medical issues, including injury, stroke, poisoning, or an infection. Here, you will learn about some of the reasons why your dog may not be able to stand or move normally.

Why is my dog staggering?

If your dog suddenly loses their sense of balance they could be suffering from one of many health problems, such as:

Sensory, Vestibular & Cerebellar Ataxia

Ataxia is a condition in dogs that relates to a sensory dysfunction that results in a loss of coordination in the rear end, head, or limbs. There are three kinds of ataxia commonly seen in dogs: sensory, vestibular, and cerebellar.

  • Sensory ataxia is when the spinal cord becomes compressed due to a tumor or bulging intervertebral disk.
  • Vestibular ataxia results from an issue with the inner ear or brainstem.
  • Cerebellar ataxia occurs when the cerebellum becomes damaged. 

Signs of ataxia can include staggering, stumbling and falling over, as well as flicking of the eyes from side to side, head tilt, walking in circles, vomiting, and nausea. 

Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

Canine idiopathic vestibular disease, also known as 'old dog vestibular syndrome', is a sudden and non-progressive disturbance of your pet's balance. This disorder stems from issues affecting your pup's vestibular system within the inner ear, and middle ear. The symptoms of vestibular disease are typically most severe during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Following that period, your dog should begin to show notable improvement over the course of the following seventy-two hours.

Inner Ear Infection

Loss of balance in dogs often occurs due to inner ear infections. If your dog has an ear infection, you may also notice additional symptoms such as odor in or around the affected ear, head shaking and scratching, walking in circles, and eye flicking, as well as redness, swelling, or discharge.

Ear Infection

Inner ear infections are a common cause of balance loss in dogs. If your dog has an ear infection, you may also notice additional symptoms like head shaking and scratching, walking in circles, and eye flicking, as well as redness, swelling, discharge, and odor in or around the affected ear.


Injuries such as head trauma or damage to the inner ear can cause dogs to lose their balance. It can be challenging to tell if your dog is injured because our canine family members tend to mask pain well. Signs that indicate a dog is in pain may include heavy panting, slowed reflexes, change in appetite, enlarged pupils, biting or licking the wounded area, anxiety, and reluctance to lie down.


While strokes in dogs are fairly uncommon, they can happen. A stroke can be the result of blood clots, high blood pressure, hemorrhage, head trauma, kidney disease, or migrating worms. If your dog is having a stroke, you may notice a loss of balance, head tilt, circling, falling down, and loss of vision.

Brain Tumor

Brain tumors sometimes occur in dogs, especially older pups, and can lead to staggering, stumbling and general loss of balance. Other symptoms of a brain tumor depend on the location of the tumor but could include, changes in behavior and/or appetite, seizures, signs of pain, head tilt, swaying, a wide stance, lack of coordination, head tremors, flicking of the eye, and pacing.

Brain Inflammation

Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain can cause a dog to stagger, stumble, or fall over. This serious condition can result from fungal infections, tick-borne diseases, and parasites, among other causes. Some other common symptoms of encephalitis include fever and depression.

What should I do if my dog is staggering and losing balance?

If your pup is showing signs of any of the conditions listed above it's time to contact a vet or an after-hours emergency vet near you. Your vet will work to determine the underlying cause of your dog's symptoms and get treatment started before the condition becomes more severe.

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.

If your dog keeps falling over, is staggering, or can't stand up contact our emergency animal hospital right away for urgent veterinary care.

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Our board-certified critical care specialists and skilled emergency veterinarians are here for you and your pet. If your dog or cat needs emergency care, get in touch with us right away.

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