My Dog Is Wobbly And Off Balance, What Should I Do?

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    Alina Andreeva
    Alina Andreeva

    Author: Alina Andreeva

    Alina A. is a professional writer, editor, and pet-lover. She has published over 30 articles on how to care for pets properly. Alina has been writing articles for 3 years, so she has considerable experience in this niche. Her natural curiosity helps her to expand her knowledge and learn new pet care life hacks, which will make your life much easier.

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    Dr. Linda Simon
    Dr. Linda Simon

    Veterinary review
    by Dr. Linda Simon

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  • Updated on: 09/02/2020

If your canine friend has a lurching walk, most likely it is not because he went to a party and drank some shots. Balance problems in dogs can be caused by many problems and some can be pretty serious.

dog wobbly and off balanceFreepik

Why is My Dog Suddenly Wobbly?

The vestibular system in pooches controls their balance, head movements and spatial orientation. Also, the vestibular system helps dogs with their motor functionality; their stability and posture. It is located in a dog’s inner ear and has several components [1]. Disruption to the vestibular system due to vestibular syndrome, ataxia, ear infection, head trauma, stroke, brain tumor, brain inflammation, or poisoning will cause your dog to experience dizziness, loss of balance, and nausea.

What is Canine Vestibular Syndrome?

The vestibular apparatus is responsible for maintaining balance. It has central structures located in the brain, and peripheral structures found in the inner and middle ear [2].

Vestibular syndrome in dogs refers to a sudden non-progressive loss of balance. It is commonly found in older dogs. In dogs entering old age, this condition is also often diagnosed as an idiopathic vestibular syndrome (‘idiopathic’ means ‘occurring for no apparent reason’). “Our vets see vestibular syndrome in all breeds of dog, but it’s most common in medium and larger dogs aged eight years old or older”, says Ernest Ward, DVM [3].

Most dogs experience a sudden loss of balance, disorientation, head tilt, flicking of the eyes from side to side (known as nystagmus), vomiting, nausea, reduced appetite, and circling when walking. Many dogs cannot stand or walk at all [4].

The treatment of both central and peripheral vestibular syndrome depends on the disease’s cause, if it has been determined. In severe cases, supportive care and hospitalization are provided until the dog can eat and walk on his own.

The symptoms associated with this syndrome are often most severe during the first 24 or 48 hours. Many dogs get better within 72 hours. The head tilt and wobbling improves within 7-10 days in most. The majority of dogs recover within 2-3 weeks, although some will have residual symptoms, such as a slight head tilt or mild “staggering” for life. If the animal’s condition does not improve or even gets worse, it is necessary to look for the disorder’s root causes and conduct a thorough diagnostic testing.

what is canine vestibular syndromeImage by Pexels from Pixabay

What is Ataxia in Dogs?

Ataxia is a pathological condition that results in a loss of proprioception and of coordination in the rear end, limbs, or head. There are three types of ataxia usually observed in dogs: cerebellar, sensory, and vestibular [5].

In most cases, dogs are prone to cerebellar ataxia. This type of ataxia occurs when the cerebellum is damaged, a structure that is responsible for the consistency of signal transmission from the dog’s brain to the musculoskeletal system to change the trajectory of movement [6]. The name of the disease, when translated from Greek, means “disorder” since the main symptom of the disease is erratic, awkward movement, and loss of balance.

Dogs lose the ability to orientate themselves in space, properly place a foot on the ground when walking, jump and climb the stairs. The disease leads to partial or complete immobilization of the animal that can result in pressure sores and muscle atrophy over time.

A breed predisposition to the disease has been identified in the following dog breeds:

  • Chinese Crested Dog
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Kerry Blue Terrier
  • Airedale Terrier
  • Jack Russell Terrier

Canine Hereditary ataxia is a form of cerebellar ataxia and is often a genetically determined disease, but the symptoms appear closer to the age of 5-6 years. There are currently tests to identify the pathological gene carrier that can be beneficial in breeding stud dogs and bitches in particular. This practice helps to exclude sick animals from breeding, protecting future generations [7].

READ MORE: Why does my Dog chase his Tail

what is ataxia in dogsImage by Katrina_S from Pixabay

Causes Of Ataxia In Dogs:

  • Canine Hereditary Ataxia [8]
  • Idiopathic Vestibular Disease
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Brain Tumors
  • Lack of B vitamins
  • Stroke complications 
  • Middle or Inner Ear Infections
  • Infectious diseases
  • Ototoxicity from certain drugs

Symptoms Of Ataxia

Ataxia in a dog can be determined by the following symptoms:

  • Motor dysfunction: A dog stumbles crouches when turning, staggers when walking and cannot place its limbs where they ought to be. Later, dogs may not be able to stand, eat or walk on their own.
  • When concentrating, head tremors can be so severe that they resemble epileptic seizures
  • Eye flicking (nystagmus)
  • Head tilting
  • Loss of hearing
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea 
  • Loss of appetite

Related article: Deaf Dog Training

Once you notice the first signs of motor dysfunction, contact your veterinarian without further delay; treating your fluffy friend by yourself is not recommended to offer them the best prognosis.

Treatment for Ataxia

The treatment plan for ataxia in dogs depends on the location and root cause of the disease. Tumors are often treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, while hereditary causes cannot be cured.

Even after treatment, some hounds may still have a motor dysfunction. These pooches often live normal lives and can adjust well to the condition.

It is crucial to maintain a sick dog’s comfort and to take measures to reduce injury from stumbling on objects or falling down the stairs. It will be necessary to provide additional support and make the surroundings safe by blocking off the stairs and dangerous spots where your dog may fall down and get injured [9].

Talk to your veterinarian about treatment and lifestyle changes you will need to make if your furry family member suffers from chronic ataxia.

How to Prevent Ataxia in Dogs?

Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that your dog will never have ataxia, but you can reduce the likelihood of it occurring due to certain diseases. For instance, you can prevent ear infections by regularly cleaning your dog’s ears and minimize the risk of ototoxicity by keeping drugs out of your dog’s reach.

reasons for loss of balance in dogs@svetikova / FreePik

Other Reasons for Loss of Balance in Dogs

  • Ear infectionsInner ear infections are a common cause of a dog being wobbly and off-balance. The dog may also shake and scratch his head, twitch his eyes, or walk-in circles. In addition to this, owners may notice redness within the ear canal, localized swelling, discharge, and a bad smell from the affected ear.
  • Head trauma. Signs of head trauma can occur during the first 24 hours after a blow to the dog’s head. The critical thing to observe is a dog’s consciousness and general behavior. We recommend you contact your dog’s veterinarian after any blow to the head.
  • Stroke. Canine strokes are quite rare. Still, they do happen. Your four-legged friend can have a stroke because of kidney disease, blood clots, high blood pressure, hemorrhages, or a blow to the head. Symptoms include loss of coordination, head tilt, falling down, loss of vision, and walking in circles.
  • Brain tumor. Dogs entering old age are more prone to suffering from tumors than younger ones. Brain tumors can cause a loss of balance, as well as many other symptoms, such as behavior changes, head tilt, staggering, stumbling, lack of proprioception, eye flicking, and pacing.
  • Encephalitis. Brain inflammation can cause a dog to stagger when walking, stumble over things, or fall down. This condition can occur as a result of fungal infections, tick-borne diseases, and parasites. Do other symptoms include a blue mood? lethargy and fever.
  • Poisoning. If you think that your dog ate something harmful to his health, contact your veterinarian immediately.
  • Diabetes. If your dog has diabetes, he will have low blood glucose, affecting his ability to move as normal and cause disorientation.

Related: My Dog Eats Everything

The Bottom Line

Your dog’s veterinarian can help you and your cuddly companion share a healthy and happy life together. If you have any reason to worry about your dog’s health, schedule a wellness visit and talk to your veterinarian.

References

  1. Lowrie ML. Vestibular disease: anatomy, physiology, and clinical signs. Compend Contin Educ Vet. (2012). 34(7): E1
  2. Jennifer Michaels, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology) – Acute Vestibular Disease in old dogs    
  3. Ernest Ward, DVM; Updated by Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH – Vestibular Disease in Dogs
  4. Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP – Vestibular Disease in Dogs and Cats
  5. Tammy Hunter, DVM; Robin Downing, DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP – Ataxia in dogs
  6. The University of Missouri-Columbia, College of Veterinary Medicine – What does cerebellar ataxia look like?
  7. Meghan C. Slanina, DVM, Cornell University, Peter V. Scrivani, DVM, DACVR, Cornell University, Dwight D. Bowman, MS, Ph.D., Cornell University – Progressive Cerebellar Ataxia in Adult Dog
  8. Dr. Carl Palazzolo, DVM – Incoordination in dogs and cats
  9. Johns Hopkins University – Canine Inherited Ataxia

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