Why is my cat or dog staggering?
If your dog or cat can't stand up or keeps falling over, they may be experiencing any number of serious health conditions, many of which we'll discuss in this post. This means your pet will need immediate emergency medical care and you should take them to a veterinary hospital right away.
There are three types of ataxia in cats and dogs: cerebellar, vestibular, and sensory. Associated with sensory dysfunction in the nervous system, ataxia can lead to loss of coordination in the head, limbs, or back end. Many diseases can cause this health problem.
Cerebellar ataxia is caused by damage to the cerebellum, while compression of the spinal cord due to a bulging intervertebral disc or tumor causes sensory ataxia. Issues with the brain stem or inner ear cause vestibular ataxia.
Along with the staggering, stumbling, and falling over, we see with other health issues, common symptoms of ataxia in cats and dogs include abnormal walking (taking large steps), weakness, swaying, and tremors in the head and body. Your pet may also tilt its head or experience lack of appetite or difficulty hearing. Other potential symptoms include changes in behavior or lethargy.
Cats with sudden onset ataxia often experience significant nausea or roll or fall to one side due to feeling so shaky on their feet. Those with chronic ataxia will typically adjust over time and are less likely to feel nauseated.
Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) can cause your pet to stagger or fall over. Fungal infections, tick-borne diseases, and parasites can trigger brain inflammation. Other symptoms of encephalitis include fever, depression, decreased consciousness, seizures, and paralysis.
Aging and senior pets may be especially susceptible to brain tumors, which can lead to stumbling, staggering, or a general loss of balance. Other signs of a brain tumor will vary depending on the tumor's location, and may include signs of seizures, swaying, pain, tremors or head tilting, a wide stance, changes in behavior or appetite, flicking of the eye, pacing, or lack of coordination.
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 your primary vet for more information.
If your pet is diagnosed with an eye-related health issue, or requires further diagnostic testing, your vet may refer you to our Renton animal hospital for veterinary ophthalmological care.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical or behavioral advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.