Have you noticed your dog or cat staggering, stumbling or falling over? One or more underlying medical issues may be to blame, including infection, injury, stroke or poisoning. Our Stockton vets discuss why you should bring your pet to an animal hospital right away if this is the case.
Why is my dog or cat staggering?
If your cat or dog is staggering, can't stand up, or keeps falling over, they might be experiencing any number of severe health problems, a number of which we'll discuss in this post. This means your pet will require immediate emergency medical care and you should take them to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible.
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 cats and dogs: cerebellar, vestibular and sensory. Many diseases can cause this health issue.
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 and cats include tremors in the head and body, abnormal walking (taking large steps), swaying, and 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.
Cats with sudden onset ataxia often fall or roll to one side and experience significant nausea due to feeling so unsteady on their feet. Kitties with chronic ataxia will usually adjust over time and are less likely to feel nauseated.
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. Facial paralysis, fever, decreased consciousness, depression, head tilt to either side, and seizures are other symptoms of encephalitis.
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.
Middle or inner ear infections often cause loss of balance in both cats and dogs. If your pet has an ear infection, you might also notice symptoms such as eye flicking, walking in circles, scratching near the ear and head shaking, along with swelling, redness, discharge, and odor in or around the ear that's affected.
Inner ear damage, head trauma and other injuries can cause pets to lose their balance. It can sometimes be challenging to tell if your pet is injured since both cats and dogs tend to mask pain. 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.
While strokes in dogs are fairly uncommon, they can occur. In cats, strokes are most commonly diagnosed in kitties that are around nine years old. 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 distorders.
If your dog is staggering like he is drunk, he may have had a stroke. Stroke symptoms in both dogs and cats can also include circling, unsteadiness while walking, unequal pupil sizes, abnormal eye movements, loss of vision or balance, falling down, head pressing (potentially as a result of a headache), altered mental state, muscle spasms or head tilt.
Common Remedies for Loss of Balance in Pets
If your cat or 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 diagnosis, and can range from medications to surgery, combinations of different types of therapies, physical rehabilitation and more.
When to Seek Emergency Care
Any dog or cat that is staggering, stumbling 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 Stockton 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.