Has your dog or cat been staggering, stumbling or falling over? One or more underlying medical issues may be the culprit, including injury, infection, poisoning or stroke. Our vets in Tracy explain why you should take your pet to an animal hospital as soon as possible.
Why is my dog or cat staggering?
If your cat or dog can't stand up or keeps falling over, they may be experiencing any number of severe health issues, some of which we'll cover in this post. This means your pet will need immediate emergency care and you should take them to a veterinary hospital right away.
A condition related to sensory dysfunction in the nervous system, ataxia leads to a loss of coordination in the head, limbs or back end. Cats and dogs can be affected by three types of ataxia: cerebellar, vestibular and sensory. A wide range of diseases can cause this condition.
Damage to the cerebellum causes cerebellar ataxia, while sensory ataxia is triggered by the spinal cord being compressed due to a bulging intervertebral disc or tumor. Vestibular ataxia is caused by an issue with the inner ear or brain stem.
Along with the stumbling, staggering and falling over common with other health conditions, common symptoms of ataxia in dogs and cats include abnormal walking (taking large steps), tremors in the head and body, weakness and swaying. You might also notice difficulty hearing, changes in behavior, lack of appetite, lethargy and head tilting.
Cats with sudden onset of ataxia often fall or roll to one side and experience significant nausea due to feeling so unsteady. Cats with chronic ataxia will typically adjust over time and are less likely to feel nauseated.
Middle or inner ear infections are a common cause of loss of balance in both dogs and cats. If your pet has an ear infection, you might also notice symptoms such as walking in circles, eye flicking, head shaking and scratching near the ear, along with redness, swelling, discharge and odor in or around the affected ear.
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.
Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain can cause an animal to stagger or fall over. Brain inflammation can be caused by fungal infections, parasites and tick-borne diseases. Seizures, head tilt to either side, facial paralysis, fever, decreased consciousness and depression are other symptoms of encephalitis.
Older pets may be especially vulnerable to brain tumors, which can lead to staggering, stumbling or general loss of balance. Other symptoms of a brain tumor will vary depending on the tumor's location and include changes in appetite or behavior, signs of pain, seizures, swaying, a wide stance, head tilting or tremors, pacing, flicking of the eye and lack of coordination.
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 Tracy 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.