Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

My Dog is Stumbling - What Should I Do?

My Dog is Stumbling - What Should I Do?

Our veterinary specialists and emergency veterinarians in Lexington understand how alarming it can be to see your dog suddenly stumbling, staggering or losing their balance as if they've had a few too many drinks. What's happening? In this post, we'll discuss a few potential reasons why your dog may be stumbling and falling down, and what you should do. 

Why is My Dog Stumbling Around Like He's Drunk?

If your dog is stumbling or losing his balance, these symptoms should never be ignored. Loss of coordination or balance can point to a serious medical emergency in dogs.

For example, a dog stumbling on its front legs may be suffering from a wide range of medical issues from ear infection or arthritis, tumor or spinal injury to vestibular disease or brain inflammation.

If your pooch is displaying symptoms related to any of the health issues listed below, we recommend heading to your veterinarian or the nearest emergency animal hospital right away. 


Damage to the inner ear, head trauma or injury is a common cause of balance issues in dogs. Our canine friends are particularly good at masking symptoms of pain, often making it difficult for their people to detect problems such as head trauma if there are no obvious signs of external injury. 

Signs that your dog may be suffering from pain include loss of appetite, enlarged pupils, biting or licking at a particular spot, slowed reflexes, heavy panting, anxiety, tail tucked, ears down and reluctance to lie down. 

If your dog has been stumbling when he's walking or shows any signs of pain, it's critical to go to a veterinary or emergency animal hospital immediately. Treatments for your dog's head trauma will depend on the specific injury.

Vestibular Disease 

Also referred to as 'Old Dog Syndrome', canine idiopathic vestibular disease or vestibular syndrome, vestibular disease is a non-progressive balance disorder typically caused by issues with your dog's inner ear or middle ear. While this condition is generally diagnosed in older dogs, dogs of any age can suffer from vestibular disease. 

In addition to stumbling and loss of balance, symptoms of vestibular disease can include head tilting, nausea, vomiting, flicking of the eyes from side to side and walking in circles. This condition isn't painful or dangerous for your dog and will probably clear up on its own within a couple of weeks without treatment. 

That said, it's important to contact your veterinarian if your dog is exhibiting signs of vestibular disease so other causes for these symptoms can be ruled out. 

Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-nausea medication for your dog if required. In some cases, IV fluids may be needed if your dog is having difficulty drinking from their water bowl. 

Ear Infections

Inner ear infections are another common cause of staggering and stumbling in dogs. Other signs of ear infections include redness, swelling, discharge, and odor in or around the affected ear as well as head shaking and scratching, walking in circles, and eye flicking.

It is essential to have your dog examined by a vet if they are showing signs of an ear infection. Leaving even minor ear infections untreated could lead to serious complications such as more severe inner ear infections or even meningitis.

Treatments may include professional cleaning, topical medications, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories. In more severe cases surgery may be required to treat chronic or serious infections.


Although strokes in pets do occur, they don't happen often. A stroke could affect any part of your dog's brain resulting in a wide range of symptoms. 

Some common signs of strokes in dogs include stumbling and balance loss, head tilt, circling, loss of vision, howling, limping, housetraining accidents, seizures, abnormal eye movements and in some cases collapse.

If your dog is showing signs of a stroke contact your vet right away or visit your nearest animal emergency hospital. 

Brain Tumor

Sometimes brain tumors will occur in dogs, particularly senior dogs, and can cause your dog to be stumbling around like drunk. If your dog has a brain tumor the symptoms will depend upon the location of the tumor but typically 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.

All of these symptoms warrant a trip to the vet as soon as possible, so contact your vet right away.

Brain Inflammation

Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain, can cause dogs to display symptoms such as stumbling and falling down. Brain inflammation can occur due to a number of issues including fungal infections, tick-borne diseases, and parasites. Dogs suffering from encephalitis can also experience lethargy, depression and fever.

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 dog been stumbling around or showing other concerning symptoms? Have your vet refer your dog to our vets in Lexington to have them examined.

Emergency Care

Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency is open 24/7 for emergencies and is accepting patients for advanced diagnostic appointments. Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Lexington companion animals. 

Contact Us

Contact (859) 268-7604