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What Does It Mean When Your Dog Is Staggering?

What Does It Mean When Your Dog Is Staggering?

When dogs stumble, stagger, or fall over, it can be a sign of a medical condition, such as an infection, injury, poisoning, or stroke. Today, our Tigard vets share the causes of staggering in dogs and why it is considered a veterinary emergency.

Staggering In Dogs

If your dog suddenly loses their sense of balance they could be suffering from one of these serious health conditions detailed below. This means your dog needs immediate veterinary attention and you should bring them to the nearest veterinary hospital as quickly as possible.


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

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

In addition to staggering, stumbling, and falling over, other signs of ataxia include head tilting, walking in circles, vomiting, nausea, and flicking of the eyes from side to side.

Ear Infection

Inner ear infections are a common cause of balance loss in dogs. If your dog has an ear infection, they may also exhibit symptoms like head shaking and scratching, walking in circles, 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 make dogs lose their balance. It can be hard to tell if your dog is injured because dogs are good at masking pain. Signs of pain in dogs include heavy panting, slowed reflexes, change in appetite, enlarged pupils, biting or licking the wounded area, anxiety, and reluctance to lie down.


While strokes aren't common among dogs, 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 tilting, circling, falling down, and loss of vision.

Brain Tumor

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

Brain Inflammation

Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) can make dogs stagger, stumble, or fall over. Encephalitis can be caused by fungal infections, tick-borne diseases, and parasites, among other causes. Other symptoms of encephalitis include fever and depression.

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.

Is your dog staggering, walking like they're drunk, falling over, or showing other signs of balance loss? Contact our emergency vets in Tigard immediately.

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