Help! My Dog Keeps Falling Over: Causes & What To Do

If your dog can't stand up or is staggering and stumbling, it may be the result of a variety of medical issues, including injury, stroke, or an infection. Today, our La Mesa vets explain some potential causes for a dog staggering and why you should seek emergency care right away. 

Why is my dog staggering?

If you notice that your dog suddenly loses their sense of balance or is staggering like they are drunk, they could be suffering from any a number of health issues. Signs of loss of balance should not be ignored since they can indicate a serious medical emergency. If your dog shows signs of any of the following health issues it's time to head to the vet straight away. 


Ataxia is a condition relating to a sensory dysfunction that results in a loss of coordination in the rear end, head, or limbs. Three kinds of ataxia are commonly seen in dogs: vestibular, cerebellar, and sensory.

Vestibular ataxia is the result of an issue with the inner ear or brainstem. Cerebellar ataxia occurs when the cerebellum is damaged. Sensory ataxia is when the spinal cord becomes compressed due to a bulging intervertebral disk or a tumor.

As well as staggering, stumbling or falling over, signs of ataxia include flicking of the eyes from side to side, head tilt, walking in circles, vomiting, and nausea.

Ear Infection

Inner ear infections are a common cause of balance loss in dogs. Typically, inner ear infections are caused by infections of the outer ear that have not healed and moved inward. If your dog has an ear infection, you may also notice additional symptoms like head shaking and scratching, walking in circles, and eye flicking, as well as redness, swelling, discharge, and odor in or around the affected ear.


Head trauma, injury, or damage to the inner ear can cause balance issues in dogs. It can be difficult to tell if a dog is injured because dogs tend to be very good at masking pain. Signs and symptoms of pain in dogs include heavy panting, slowed reflexes, change in appetite, enlarged pupils, biting or licking the wounded area, reluctance to lie down, and anxiety.


Strokes in dogs are fairly uncommon, nonetheless, they can happen. A stroke can be the result of blood clots, high blood pressure, hemorrhage, head trauma, kidney disease, or migrating worms. Signs that your dog may be having a stroke include loss of balance, head tilt, circling, loss of vision, and collapse.

Brain Tumor

Sometimes brain tumors will occur in dogs, particularly senior dogs, and can lead to a general loss of balance, staggering, and stumbling. Other symptoms of a brain tumor depend upon the location of the tumor and include changes in behavior and/or appetite, seizures, signs of pain, head tilt, swaying, a wide stance, lack of coordination, head tremors, pacing, and flicking of the eye.

Brain Inflammation

Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain can cause dogs to stagger, stumble, or fall over. Brain inflammation can result from a number of issues including fungal infections, tick-borne diseases, and parasites. Other symptoms of encephalitis include depression and fever.

Our Rancho Village Veterinary Hospital vets see emergency cases during our business hours. If your dog is exhibiting signs of loss of balance, staggering, or is unable to stand, please contact us right away.