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My Pet Can't Stand & Keeps Falling! What Should I Do?

My Pet Can't Stand & Keeps Falling! What Should I Do?

If your dog or cat is staggering, stumbling, or falling over, it could be the result of several medical issues, including injury, stroke, poisoning, or an infection. In today's post, our Capitola vets explain some of the reasons why your cat or dog may not be able to stand or move normally.

Why Is My Pet Staggering?

If your companion pet suddenly loses their sense of balance, they could be suffering from a variety of health issues, some of which may be quite serious. If your cat or dog is staggering, or continuously falling down, you should get to a veterinary hospital right away as they may require urgent medical care.

Below, Our Capitola veterinarians share some health concerns that may be causing your pet to continuously fall over.

Sensory, Vestibular & Cerebellar Ataxia

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

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

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

Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

Canine idiopathic vestibular disease, also known as 'old dog vestibular syndrome', is a sudden and non-progressive disturbance of your pet's balance. This disorder stems from issues affecting your pup's vestibular system within the inner ear, and middle ear. The symptoms of vestibular disease are typically most severe during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours, following that period your dog should begin to show notable improvement over the following seventy-two hours.

Inner Ear Infection

Loss of balance in pets often occurs due to inner ear infections. If your pet has an ear infection, you may also notice additional symptoms such as odor in or around the affected ear, head shaking and scratching, walking in circles, and eye flicking, as well as redness, swelling, or discharge.

Ear Infection

Inner ear infections are a common cause of balance loss in both cats and dogs. If your pet 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.


Injuries such as head trauma or damage to the inner ear can cause your pet to lose their balance. It can be hard to tell if your cat or dog is injured because they tend to hide pain. Signs that indicate pain include heavy panting, slowed reflexes, change in appetite, enlarged pupils, biting or licking the wounded area, anxiety, and reluctance to lie down.


While strokes are fairly uncommon, they can happen. A stroke can be the result of blood clots, high blood pressure, hemorrhage, head trauma, kidney disease, or migrating worms. If your pet is having a stroke, you may notice a loss of balance, head tilt, circling, falling down, and loss of vision.

Brain Tumor

Brain tumors can sometimes occur in our pets, especially older ones, and can lead to staggering, stumbling, and general loss of balance. Other symptoms of a brain tumor depend on 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, flicking of the eye, and pacing.

Brain Inflammation

Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain can cause a dog or cat to stagger, stumble, or fall over. This serious condition can result from fungal infections, tick-borne diseases, and parasites, among other causes. Some other common symptoms of encephalitis include fever and depression.

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.

Does your cat or dog keep falling over, staggering, or having trouble standing up? Contact our Capitola animal hospital right away for urgent veterinary care.

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Santa Cruz Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Capitola companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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