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Dog Staggering : Why is my dog walking like they are drunk?

Dog Staggering : Why is my dog walking like they are drunk?

Although it may not happen often, there are many reasons why your dog may suddenly be stumbling or falling over including injury or stroke. Our Lacey vets discuss why your dog is staggering like they are drunk and why you should bring them to the vet.

Why is my dog staggering?

If you notice that your dog has suddenly begun to stumble around or is falling over the could be suffering from a number of serious conditions. If this happens you should bring your dog to see a vet immediately.


Your dog could be suffering from a sensory dysfunction called Ataxia that results in a loss of coordination in the head, limbs, or rear end. There are three kinds of ataxia seen commonly 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.

Other signs of Ataxia along with staggering, stumbling and falling over could include head tilt, walking in circles, vomiting, nausea, and flicking of the eyes from side to side.

Ear Infection

Dogs can suffer from a loss of balance due to inner ear infections. 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.


If your dog has suffered any trauma to their head or ears it can cause a loss of balance. Because dogs tend to experience pain while hiding symptoms this can be hard to determine. Signs that indicate a dog is in pain include heavy panting, slowed reflexes, change in appetite, enlarged pupils, biting or licking the wounded area, anxiety, and reluctance to lie down.


It can be rare for dogs to experience strokes but it is possible for this to be a cause of loss of balance. 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

As your dog ages, their risk of brain tumors will increase, this can lead to staggering, stumbling and general loss of balance. The location of the tumor will determine the symptoms that your dog will experience and 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

Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) may cause a dog to stagger, stumble, or fall over. Encephalitis can come about as a result of 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.

If your dog is suddenly showing signs of loss of balance such as stumbling or falling down contact our Lacey veterinary hospital immediately.

Walk-in Patients Welcome

At Olympia Pet Emergency, you can always access our full complement of emergency services without an appointment. We treat both walk-in patients and referrals for urgent veterinary care.

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