Wobbling in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog wobbling?

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog wobbling?

What is Wobbling?

A loss of coordination can cause wobbling in your dog. You may see your dog sway, drift, or stagger, or use a wide stance to keep upright. There are many reasons why your dog could lose his balance and wobble, including: 

  • Disorientation 
  • Spinal cord problems 
  • Muscle weakness
  • Gait problems
  • Inner ear problems
  • Brain condition
  • Canine distemper 
  • Dehydration 
  • Anemia
  • Toxin ingestion
  • Idiopathic Vestibular Disease
  • Liver or kidney failure

Why Wobbling Occurs in Dogs

Why your dog may be wobbling has to do with the cause of the incoordination he is experiencing.

Disorientation

Disorientation is an altered state where your dog’s direction is lost. It can occur as a result of many conditions that affect the central nervous system or inner ear. Age related dementia can also affect your dog, causing him to become confused even in familiar places. 

Spinal Cord Problems 

Many conditions that can occur to the spinal cord can affect your dog’s balance and coordination. These can include bulging disks, tumors, infections, inflammation, trauma, and diseases such as degenerative myelopathy that can result in paralysis. Wobbler syndrome affects the spine in the neck area, and causes a wobbly gait that is especially seen when the affected dog walks slowly, or on slippery floors.

Muscle Weakness

Muscle weakness and atrophy can result from many conditions, and can cause dogs to be wobbly and unbalanced. Myasthenia gravis causes a disruption in electrical signals from the nerves to the muscles, while myositis is an inflammation of muscle tissue that can result in an inability to walk.

Gait Problems

Many injuries and malfunctions in the nerves and muscles of the limbs and feet can result in a loss of balance and incoordination, or ataxia. Such conditions as a ruptured cruciate ligament, hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, or osteochondritis dissecans can cause pain that can influence your dog’s ability to walk. 

Inner Ear Problems

The inner ear is where the sense of balance originates, and when it is damaged, that balance can be lost. Infections, inflammation, tumors, and trauma to this sensitive area can cause your dog to be shaky and uncoordinated. When the inner ear is functioning abnormally, or a disruption is caused by the brainstem, it is often referred to as a vestibular syndrome.

Brain Condition

Brain tumors, infections, and inflammation can affect your dog’s ability to balance and walk properly, as well as affect nerve function. Abnormalities in the cerebellum and degenerative changes that can occur due to disease and old age can also affect nerve function.

Canine Distemper 

Distemper is a highly contagious viral infection that your dog can catch from contact with infected animals. The virus affects the nervous system, resulting in twitches, seizures, and eventually, paralysis.

Dehydration 

When the body loses too much water, it can cause water levels to become dangerously low. As the body compensates by drawing water from individual cells, essential electrolytes are lost. This can severely affect muscle function. Dehydration can also occur from high levels of sugar, as the body increases urination in an attempt to balance those levels.

Anemia

Anemia is a condition where the amount of circulating red blood cells are significantly reduced. Red blood cells transport oxygen to all the cells of the body, including those in the muscles. If there aren’t enough red blood cells to take the oxygen to the muscles, then those cells become starved and weaken. Anemia can also affect the brain and cause disorientation and dizziness.

Toxin ingestion

The ingestion of certain toxins such as alcohol, anti-freeze or rat bait can cause a range of affects and may affect the gait. If you suspect your dog has eaten something that they shouldn't have, the sooner they are seen by a vet the better. The vet may induce vomiting and start supportive care such as intravenous fluids.


Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

This condition tends to come on suddenly in senior dogs. Many owners fear they have had a stroke as they walk about like a 'drunken sailor'. Other signs can include nausea and a flickering of the eyes. Thankfully, the prognosis is very good with most dogs making a full recovery in a matter of days. 


Liver or kidney failure

When toxins build up in the body secondary to organ failure, one of the possible signs your dog will experience is a wobbly and uncoordinated gait. They may also act confused. A blood test should diagnose these disorders with ease.


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What to do if your Dog is Wobbling

If your dog is wobbling, you will need to monitor him. He may be suffering from a serious condition and a vet visit is advised.

Your veterinarian will need to know about any other symptoms you may have noticed besides the incoordination, and may ask you questions about your dog’s feeding and elimination habits, exposure to sick animals, or if he has had any injuries. A complete physical, orthopaedic and neurological exam will be performed, along with blood and urine tests, imaging techniques such as MRIs, X-rays, and CT scans. Muscle and nerve biopsies, and cerebrospinal fluid, may be taken and analyzed. 

Diagnostic testing should reveal the cause of your dog’s instability, and treatment should follow accordingly. Dehydration and electrolyte loss often only need fluid therapy to replace what is missing. Inner ear infections can be cleared up through the use of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Many muscle, nerve, and brain conditions may need supportive care and hospitalisation, depending on the severity. Tumors can sometimes be treated through surgical removal, chemotherapy, or radiation. If canine distemper is found to be affecting your dog, medications to control digestive and neurological symptoms can be administered, as well as other supportive therapies. Pain medications are also given as needed for many conditions.

A dog affected by a chronic wobbling or instability can benefit from small environmental changes that can help him stay balanced, such as non-slippery surfaces and the removal of obstacles. Some will require a sling to help them go to the toilet.

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Prevention of Wobbling

Many of the conditions that can lead to a loss of balance are not predictable. Routine check-ups can help you to catch any conditions before they progress beyond the point of treatment. To ensure your dog does not become dehydrated, always have water available for him to drink, and report an excessive increase in urination to your veterinarian. Getting your dog vaccinated for canine distemper is the best way to protect him from this fatal virus. Treat any outer ear infections promptly to ensure they do not worsen. Keep your dog well away from any toxins.

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Cost of Wobbling

A wobbling dog who is suffering from a loss of coordination may need treatment that will vary depending on the cause. Treatment for canine distemper for example, could cost as much as $1800 while costs for Wobbler syndrome could be approximately $4000. Generally, most treatments can range from $100 to $3000. 

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Wobbling Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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doxie/ chiwawa mix

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Two Years

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7 found helpful

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7 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Sudden Wobbley, Sleepy

My dog was fine, we cleaned a room that had been occupied by someone that has bi polar medications, smoke pot, has benadryl. Although We did not see him eat anything. He was fine then in 15 min. Not fine. Tired eyes, resting. Breathing slightly elevated but about 25 a min. While resting a little twitch in front shoulder every 3 min . Doesn't want water but still eat. He can get up and walk but not quick. He is kinda in slow motion.

Nov. 30, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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7 Recommendations

I'm sorry to hear this. I echo your concerns that he may well have ingested something toxic. As we simply can't know what he ate and at what dose, he needs to see an emergency vet right away. They will check him over and may well make him sick. He might also benefit from blood tests to assess his liver and kidney function. Depending on what he has eaten, further care such as oxygen, fluids and activated charcoal meals may be appropriate.

Nov. 30, 2020

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Boxer

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3 1/2 months

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0 found helpful

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0 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Wobbly

Puppy came in after 15 minutes in the yard & is now wobbly

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I would be very concerned that your pup ate something they weren't supposed to in the yard, especially if he was unattended. I hope that you were able to get veterinary care for him, and that he is okay.

Oct. 9, 2020

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