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What are Dizzy on the Stairs?

If your dog appears unbalanced, has strange eye movement, or makes circles with his head while on the stairs or in general, he may be experiencing dizziness.  Though excited behaviors and spinning around may cause dizziness, you will know when your dog is exhibiting abnormal signs of dizziness while moving or standing still.  Dizziness is most often associated with the vestibular system, which consists of the inner ear organs and nerves that provide the brain with sensory information related to gravity and physical position.  Some of the common causes of dizziness may include:

  • Ear infection
  • Head trauma
  • Poisoning and Toxiciity
  • Hypoglycemia and diabetes

Discovering the reasons for your dog’s dizziness is important as some medical conditions can be life threatening.

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Why Dizzy on the Stairs Occurs in Dogs

Dizziness occurs when there is a breakdown in the signaling between the inner ear and the brain, controlled by the vestibular system.

Ear Infections

An ear infection can cause your dog to seem dizzy.  Your dog may also scratch at his ears, shake his head, or experience redness and swelling of the ears.  There are several causes for ear infections in dogs, including bacterial, fungal, or viral infections.  Allergies, mites, and foreign bodies may also cause inflammation that leads to an infection in your dog.  Dogs with floppy ears, such as Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels are more likely to get infections, and an ear infection can occur at any age; however, older dogs are more likely to suffer from infection as their immune systems weaken with age.  

Head Trauma

Head trauma to the ear, the side of the skull, and the brain can also cause your dog to be dizzy and disoriented.  Head injury is a potentially life-threatening condition resulting from a concussion or contusion.  Any bleeding or swelling of the ear or side of the face may indicate an accident as well.  

Poisoning and Toxicity

Certain medications, such as ACE-inhibitors, can cause weakness and dizziness in your dog.  The toxicity levels are mild to moderate, but this also depends on how much was given or consumed by your dog.  An ACE-inhibitor medication is used to treat hypertension in both humans and dogs, but if the medication is accidentally consumed at toxic levels, it can cause hypotension in your dog.  

Hypoglycemia and Diabetes

Low blood sugar, whether related to diabetes or not, occurs when there is not enough sugar in the blood to fuel blood cells and often results in dizziness, trembling, and overall weakness in your dog.  Glucose, a metabolized sugar, fuels your dog’s cells, but if there is too much insulin in the body, the glucose reserves in the blood will drop to low levels. Higher amounts of insulin may occur if you give your diabetic dog too much insulin, if he skips a meal, or if he exerts himself too hard.  

A hypoglycemic attack can cause your dog to become disoriented, dizzy, and possibly vomit. Hypoglycemic attacks occur more in older, obese dogs, and more frequently in female dogs that are in heat or are pregnant.

What to do if your Dog is Dizzy on the Stairs

If you notice your dog appears dizzy and disoriented while on stairs, getting up, or moving around, you want to look for other signs and symptoms.  There are several reasons for a dizzy dog, but most reasons deal with the vestibular system so check for any injury, swelling, redness, or odor from your dog’s ear.  If he appears in any pain or you find signs of infection or trauma, see your veterinarian immediately.  

Your veterinarian will perform a full examination including examining the ear canal.  If an ear infection is diagnosed, treatment will depend upon the type of infection. Antibiotics, antifungals, or anti-parasitic medications are prescribed and possibly a steroid to help with the inflammation.

An obvious head injury might include bleeding, and you need to get your dog to emergency right away. Applying direct pressure to the wound will slow down the bleeding. Using a water or saline solution-soaked compress on the wound will also prevent infection while transporting your dog to an emergency clinic.  

If your dog’s dizziness is related to dropping glucose levels, you can start with rubbing corn syrup on your dog’s gums.  If the hypoglycemic attack is severe enough, your veterinarian may administer fluid therapy containing dextrose.  The clinic will re-test your dog’s blood sugar levels, monitor his progress for several hours, and release him to your care with explicit instructions to prevent a future attack.

Prevention of Dizzy on the Stairs

Many of the common causes of ear infections that might lead to dizziness can be avoided by making sure your dog’s ears are clean.  Your dog uses his paws to clean his ears so making sure his paws are clean and free of potential foreign bodies should not be overlooked when caring for him.

Dogs can suffer head and ear trauma when fighting with other dogs.  Try to keep your dog away from stray, aggressive, or unfamiliar dogs to reduce his chances of sustaining an injury in a fight.  Similarly, many dogs injure their heads in vehicular accidents.  Keeping your dog on a leash and away from cars while outside is the best measure you can take to prevent a vehicular accident.  

As your dog ages, his insulin-glucose balancing functions may start to fail.  To prevent a hypoglycemic attack in your dog, be sure to keep him a regular diet and give him regular exercise to prevent obesity. However, try not to let your older dog exert himself too greatly as over-exertion may lead to a hypoglycemic attack.  Your dog is not able to self-medicate with juice or crackers when he feels his blood sugar dropping so you must watch for the early signs of an attack and act as indicated by your veterinarian.

Cost of Dizzy on the Stairs

Treatment cost will vary depending on the underlying cause of your dog’s dizziness.  For example, an ear infection costs around $450 to treat whereas hypoglycemia may cost as much as $4,000 to treat.