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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

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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.

What to do if your Dog is Wobbling

If your dog is wobbling, you may need to monitor him. If it does not pass on its own and continues for a period of time, he may be suffering from a serious condition.

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 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 needs fluid therapy to replace what is missing. Inner ear infections can be cleared up through the use of antibiotics. Many muscle, nerve, and brain conditions may need surgery, depending on the severity. Tumors can 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.

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.

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. 

Wobbling Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

MrMan
Chorkie
8 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Drags back eg sometimes is wobbly
Drags back

Medication Used

Dexamethasone

MrMan presented with back nails scraping while walking. Next he began to stumble occasionally. Now when he stands he crouches down and tail is lowered and he seems wobbly. Symptoms are better some days. Vet did exam and X-ray that did not reveal a problem. Thought it was bulging disc in neck. Prescribed dexaMethasone for 14 days. Finished today. Symptoms the same but now seems to be constpated. Still passing stools but small each time and with effort. I have added pumpkin and wet food to diet. Now what should I do? He does not seem to be in pain. Never cries out and eats and drinks well. Interacts with us and other dog. Thanks

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1079 Recommendations
If MrMan hasn't responded to the medication, he should be re-evaluated to see what else might be going on, and how to treat him. He might benefit from a muscle relaxant, and your veterinarian can examine him to make sure that he isn't getting constipated to the point where he needs treatment for that. I hope that he is okay.

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Sheeba
daucshaund
9 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

drags her legs

my daucshound has suddenly started wobbling and dragging her back two legs. she has thrown up this morning. i have checked to see if her legs are hurt but she does not squell when i check her. she was fine until yesterday so this happened suddenly

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2499 Recommendations
Dachshunds are prone to spinal problems which may cause issues with the hind legs; however the vomiting and wobbly gait may be attributable to other cases like poisoning, infection, liver disease among other causes. Without examining Sheeba I cannot say what the specific cause is, but would recommend visiting your Veterinarian for an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Gunner
Hound/Labrador retriever
2 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

More fatigue
Swaying
Wobbling
Wide eyes
Seems dizzy

Why is my dog swaying/wobbling? He has randomly started to sway out of no where and he seems like he is dizzy , I gave him water to see if he was dehydrated. Please help me.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1079 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Gunner needs to be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible, as I cannot examine him or determine what is going on with him. Puppies are susceptible to parasites and infectious diseases, and GUnner may have one of those going on, or neurologic disease. Your veterinarian will be able to examine him and determine any treatment for him. I hope that all goes well for Gunner.

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Cheeto
Labrador Retriever
10 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Instability and weakness, Lethar

My dog just discontinued gabapentin and tramadol on Sunday night was the last dose. She is still on Duramax but she had a pulled muscle in her leg on the back left side and because of that was compensating on the front right side, so they had put her on the pain meds for that and the pain meds severely sedated her where she couldn’t even walk. They started to do the laser light therapy with her but she is still weak and wobbly not as bad but still somewhat since discontinuing the two meds and my question is is that normal

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1079 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Gabapentin and Tramadol can be sedating for some dogs. As her body metabolizes the drugs and they are cleared from her system, her unsteadiness should improve. If it continues, it would be a good idea to have her seen by your veterinarian and evaluated to make sure that there isn't something else going on. I hope that she is okay!

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