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My Pet Can't Stand & Keeps Falling - Possible Causes & What To Do

Is your dog or cat staggering, stumbling, or falling over? These symptoms could indicate underlying medical issues such as injury, infection, poisoning, or stroke. Our vets in Ceres explain why taking your pet to an animal hospital is important as soon as possible. 

Why is my dog or cat staggering?

When your dog or cat starts staggering, it can be concerning and disorienting for you and your pet. Understanding the potential reasons behind this behavior is crucial for getting the right help. Here are some common causes and what you should do if you notice your pet staggering.

Common Causes of Staggering in Pets


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. 

Cerebellar ataxia is caused by damage to the cerebellum, while the compression of the spinal cord triggers sensory ataxia due to a bulging intervertebral disc or tumor. An issue with the inner ear or brain stem causes vestibular ataxia. 

Common symptoms of ataxia in dogs and cats include stumbling, staggering, falling over, abnormal walking (taking large steps), tremors in the head and body, weakness, and swaying. Additional symptoms may include difficulty hearing, changes in behavior, lack of appetite, lethargy, and head tilting. 

Cats with a sudden onset of ataxia often fall or roll to one side and experience significant nausea due to feeling unsteady. Cats with chronic ataxia typically adjust over time and are less likely to feel nauseated.

Ear Infection 

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, scratching near the ear, and redness, swelling, discharge, and odor in or around the affected ear.


Ingesting toxic substances can severely affect the nervous system, leading to steering and other serious symptoms, such as vomiting, drooling, tremors, and inability to stand.  This is a medical emergency. Contact our veterinarian or an emergency clinic immediately. 


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 cats and dogs tend to mask pain. Signs of pain in pets include a change in appetite, slowed reflexes, licking or biting a wounded area, heavy panting, anxiety, and reluctance to lie down or put pressure on the affected area.

Brain Inflammation

Encephalitis, or brain inflammation, can cause an animal to stagger or fall over. It can be caused by fungal infections, parasites, and tick-borne diseases. Other symptoms of encephalitis include seizures, head tilt to either side, facial paralysis, fever, decreased consciousness, and depression. 


Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can occur in small breeds and young animals after surgery and may cause weakness, staggering, trembling lethargy, and unsteady movement. If you notice these symptoms, offering the animal a small amount of honey or syrup and seeking immediate veterinary attention is important, as hypoglycemia can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

Brain Tumor

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. 


Strokes in dogs are rare but can happen. Cats are typically diagnosed with strokes around the age of nine. Strokes are less common in pets than in humans. They can 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 serious disorders.

Signs of a stroke in dogs and cats may include staggering as if they are drunk, circling, unsteadiness while walking, unequal pupil sizes, abnormal eye movements, loss of vision or balance, falling down, head pressing (possibly due to a headache), altered mental state, muscle spasms or head tilt.

Common Remedies for Loss of Balance in Pets

If your cat or dog is unable to walk or stand up and is staggering or falling over, please carefully observe and note the symptoms. Keep track of the frequency, duration, and severity of the staggering episodes. It's crucial to take your pet to the vet right away. In the meantime, keep your pet calm and confined to prevent further injury and ensure that it stays well-hydrated.

When to Seek Emergency Care

If your dog or cat is staggering, stumbling, or falling over, it needs immediate veterinary attention. It may be in pain and danger, especially if it is showing signs of seizure, continuous vomiting, or severe weakness.

Our Ceres vets can diagnose the issue and provide compassionate care and treatment for your pet. We might also recommend follow-up care or refer you 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.

Has your cat or dog been losing its balance? Our Ceres veterinarians can provide quality emergency care for your pet. Contact our vets right away. 

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