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My Dog is Staggering & Keeps Falling Over

When your dog is stumbling and can't stand up, it can be very frightening. Especially if they were perfectly fine not long before. Our vets at Marcello Veterinary Hospital talk about why your dog is staggering like they are drunk and keeps falling over, what to do about it and when it might be an emergency.

Why is my dog staggering like they are drunk?

If your dog can't stand up or keeps falling over, they might be experiencing any number of severe health problems, several of which we'll discuss in this post. This can indicate a serious medical issue that requires immediate veterinary care.


Ataxia is a condition associated with sensory dysfunction in the nervous system and can lead to loss of coordination in the head, limbs, or back end. Three types of ataxia can impact dogs: cerebellar, vestibular and sensory. Many diseases can cause this issue in dogs.

Cerebellar ataxia is caused by damage to the cerebellum, while sensory ataxia is triggered by a compression of the spinal cord due to a tumor or bulging intervertebral disc. Issues with the inner ear or brain stem cause vestibular ataxia. 

In addition to the stumbling, staggering, and falling over we see with other health problems, common symptoms of ataxia in dogs include:

  • Tremors in the head and body
  • Abnormal walking (taking large steps)
  • Swaying
  • Weakness

You may also notice your pet tilting its head or experiencing difficulty hearing and lack of appetite, along with lethargy and exhibiting changes in behavior. 

Brain Inflammation 

Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) can cause an animal to stagger or fall over. Brain inflammation can be triggered by parasites, fungal infections, and tick-borne diseases.

Other symptoms of brain inflammation that you may notice are:

  • Facial paralysis
  • Fever
  • Decreased consciousness
  • Depression
  • Head tilt to either side
  • Seizures

Brain Tumor 

Aging and senior pets may be especially vulnerable to brain tumors, which can lead to staggering, stumbling, or general loss of balance.

Other signs of a brain tumor will vary depending on the tumor's location and may include signs of pain, swaying, seizures, a wide stance, tremors or head tilting, changes in appetite or behavior, pacing, lack of coordination, and flicking of the eye. 

Ear Infection 

Middle or inner ear infections often cause loss of balance in dogs. If your pet has an ear infection, you might also notice symptoms such as:

  • Eye flicking
  • Walking in circles
  • Scratching near the ear
  • Head shaking
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Discharge
  • Foul Odor

Injuries / Trauma

Inner ear damage, head trauma and other injuries can cause pets to lose their balance. Because dogs are good at hiding pain and discomfort, it can make it difficult to spot some of the signs. Change in appetite, slowed reflexes, licking or biting a wounded area, heavy panting, anxiety and reluctance to lie down or put pressure on the area can all indicate pain. 


Strokes may be relatively uncommon but they do occur sometimes. 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 disorders.

If your dog is staggering like he is drunk, he may have had a stroke. Stroke symptoms in dogs can also include circling, unsteadiness while walking, unequal pupil sizes, abnormal eye movements, loss of vision or balance, falling, head pressing (potentially as a result of a headache), altered mental state, muscle spasms or head tilt.

What should I do if my dog is falling over?

If your 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 the diagnosis and can range from medications to surgery, combinations of different types of therapies, physical rehabilitation, and more.

Is it an emergency if my dog keeps staggering?

Any staggering dog, stumbling over their front legs 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. 

If you are experiencing an emergency with your pet during regular hours, contact us for more information. Other local hospitals provide emergency care after hours. If your pet sees our vets, we can 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.

If your dog is stumbling around, our vets at Marcello Veterinary Hospital will get to the bottom of their condition. Contact us to book an examination for your pet today.

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