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Help, My Dog is Staggering Like Drunk!

Has your cat or dog been stumbling, staggering, or falling over? One or more underlying medical issues, including poisoning, injury, infection, or stroke, maybe the culprit. Our vets in Modesto explain why you should bring your pet to an animal hospital right away if this occurs. 

Why is my cat or dog staggering?

If you notice that your dog or cat is unable to stand up or is frequently losing balance, it could indicate severe health issues that require immediate attention. In this post, we'll cover some of these health conditions, and we strongly advise taking your pet to a veterinary hospital right away for emergency medical care.


There are three kinds of ataxia that cats and dogs can experience: cerebellar, vestibular, and sensory. Ataxia is a condition in which a problem with the nervous system leads to a 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 sensory ataxia, caused by a bulging intervertebral disc or tumor, is caused by spinal cord compression. Vestibular ataxia is caused by issues with the brain stem or inner ear.

Some common symptoms of ataxia in cats and dogs include staggering, stumbling, keeps falling over, abnormal walking (taking large steps), weakness, swaying, and tremors in the head and body. Your pet may also tilt its head or experience a lack of appetite or difficulty hearing. Other potential symptoms include changes in behavior or lethargy. 

Cats with a sudden onset of ataxia often feel very nauseated or may roll or fall to one side due to feeling so shaky on their feet. However, those with chronic ataxia will typically adjust over time and are less likely to feel nauseated.

Brain Inflammation 

Encephalitis can cause pets to stagger or fall over. Fungal infections, tick-borne diseases, and parasites can trigger it. Other symptoms include fever, depression, decreased consciousness, seizures, and paralysis.

Brain Tumor

As pets age, they may become more vulnerable to developing brain tumors, which can cause them to lose balance and stagger. The symptoms of a brain tumor may differ depending on the location of the tumor. These may include seizures, swaying, pain, tremors, head tilting, a wide stance, changes in behavior or appetite, eye flicking, pacing, or lack of coordination.

Ear Infection 

Middle or inner ear infections can cause balance loss in pets, including cats and dogs. If your pet suffers from an ear infection, you may also notice other symptoms, such as eye flicking, walking in circles, scratching near the ear, and head shaking. The affected ear may show signs of swelling, redness, discharge, and odor.


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. 


Although they are relatively rare in pets, strokes can occur in both dogs and cats. In cats, strokes are typically diagnosed in older felines around nine years of age. Strokes are less common in pets than in humans. They may be caused by various factors such as 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 severe disorders.

If you suspect your dog has had a stroke, look for symptoms such as staggering or unsteady walking, circling, unequal pupil sizes, abnormal eye movements, loss of balance or vision, falling down, head pressing (which may indicate a headache), altered mental state, muscle spasms, or head tilt. These symptoms may also occur in cats who have had a stroke.

Common Remedies for Loss of Balance in Pets

If you notice that your cat or dog is having difficulty standing or walking and is showing signs of staggering or falling over, it is important to take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Our team of qualified veterinarians will be able to diagnose the issue and recommend an appropriate treatment option based on the diagnosis.

Treatment options can vary widely depending on the diagnosis and may include a combination of medications, surgery, physical therapy, and other therapies.

When to Seek Emergency Care

It is crucial to seek immediate veterinary attention if you notice your dog or cat staggering, stumbling, or falling over. These symptoms may indicate pain or other health issues, and their life may be in danger.

Time is of the essence, and prompt action may be critical for their survival and recovery. If you experience an emergency with your pet during regular hours, contact your primary vet for guidance and assistance.

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 to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.

Has your pet been experiencing stumbling or falling over? Contact our Modesto vets to book an appointment for a consultation.

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