This article was updated on January 16th, 2024
When your dog is stumbling and falling over this can be very scary. I see many dogs with balance issues and losing balance in their hind legs (back legs) in my clinic each week. Many people wonder if their dog has had a stroke causing these or some other neurological issue.
Many of my pet parents want to know what they can do at home to help their dog feel much better and return to normal. If your dog is losing balance, we can help.
Top Reasons for a Dog Losing Balance and Falling Over
These are some of the most common reasons that your dog is losing balance and falling over. While many of these may need lifelong treatment to help your dog be able to walk normally again, some can also be life threatening and require vet treatments:
1. Your dog has had a stroke
If your dog has had a stroke, he may be stumbling around and falling over. Symptoms of a stroke often vary a lot from dog to dog (depending on the area of the brain that is affected). Some common symptoms include:
- tilting the head,
- abnormal eye movement: many dogs who have had a stroke will also have nystagmus. This is when your dog’s eyes are moving back and forth quickly. This will make your dog very dizzy.
- difficulty in walking, losing balance or falling over,
- change in behavior,
The treatment for a stroke will depend on the signs that your dog is showing. This may be just monitoring your dog or giving daily medication. If your dog is experience symptoms such as vomiting or dizziness, your vet can prescribe anti-nausea medications and start them on medication to help decrease the dizziness.
If your dog has had a stroke, he can still live for a little while. Many dogs do not make a full recovery and are usually euthanized due to a poor quality of life. Learn more about strokes.
2. Your dog has back disease (dog losing balance in hind legs)
If your dog is dragging his back legs (hind legs) and not able to stand, he may have a collapsed disc in his back. This is commonly seen in Dachshunds. Their very long backs can cause them to have issues. The most common symptoms include:
- difficulty walking,
- weakness in the hind legs, and
- loss of coordination.
Mild back disease signs can be easily treated with pain medications, muscle relaxers, and cage rest. Medication and cage rest will be on the low cost of treatment and would range for $200 to $400.
If your dog has severe back issues, your dog may need back surgery. Back surgery usually costs $2,000 to over $5,000, depending on where you live and the extent of their condition. Usually, dogs who need surgery and do not get surgery can suffer lifelong damage. After surgery, you will need to keep your dog confined and possibly do physical therapy for him to have the full range of motion and movement of his legs.
3. Your dog has had a seizure
Dogs who have had a seizure will lose their balance and fall over. They may also have convulsions. Usually, seizure activity only lasts a few seconds. If they continue, it would be best for your dog to see your vet right away so that they can give him medication to help stop the seizures.
Without treatment, many dogs will continue to have seizures. The more that your dog has seizures the more frequently these become and the more likely that they will become very severe. Sometimes seizures can be life-threatening if not managed.
If your dog is having seizures, your vet may want to run bloodwork to see what is going on. The initial cost can range between $200 and $500 or more. Your vet will also start your dog on daily seizure medication to prevent your dog from having seizures. This can cost about $20 to $50 a month. If your dog is managed on seizure medication, he can usually live a normal life.
Learn more about seizures in older dogs or life expectancy of dogs with seizures.
4. Old dog cognitive dysfunction
As your dog gets older, he can start to develop cognitive issues and may stumble and fall from time to time. The ‘Old Dog Syndrome’ is very common in senior dogs: studies show tha 22% to 70% of senior dogs show some signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.
“Old Dog Syndrome can be mild enough that the symptoms are minimal, or severe enough to cause real disruption to your life, and your dog’s life. Dogs with cognitive dysfunction will often benefit from brain supplements/medication and diet changes.”
Your vet can prescribe prescription medications such as Selegiline to help his brain function a little better. There are also great cognitive diets and supplements that you can give to your dog to help if your dog is losing balance. Learn more about Old Dog Syndrome.
Other reasons causing dogs to fall & lose balance include neurological issues such as:
- toxin exposure, or
- low blood sugar.
4 Steps to Take at Home to Help Your Dog
If your dog is losing balance, stumbling, and falling over, there are a few thing that you can try at home after discussing it with your veterinarian:
1. Change diet
If you feel that this is a neurological issue, such as a stroke or seizure, switching your dog to a brain diet will help. One diet that I love is Purina Bright Mind. This diet contains added ingredients to help your dog’s brain work better. This article may also help: Best Food & Supplements for Dogs with Seizures.
2. Add supplements
Giving your dog supplements each day will help your dog’s brain function better. Also, joint supplements can help dogs who are stumbling and falling over due to joint issues. Glucosamine and chondroitin are great things to add to your dog’s diet to help him be able to walk much better.
3. Keep your dog confined
If your dog is falling over, keeping him confined until your vet appointment is best to prevent him from injuring himself even more.
4. Give your dog travel sickness medication
Some dogs are very dizzy and are falling over. Ask your vet if travel sickness medications such as Meclizine are a good thing to give your dog. This medication can often be purchased over the counter and many people take it for sea sickness.
Please note that you should always consult with your veterinarian before changing your dog’s diet or giving your dog any medication.
When Should I Call the Vet if my Dog is Losing Balance?
If your dog is constantly falling over and losing his balance it is best to see your vet as soon as possible. These are some instances when you should skip the at-home remedies and see your vet right away:
1. Your dog is actively having a seizure: Dogs who are actively having a seizure need to see a vet right away. This could mean that your dog got into something that they should not have or experiencing a neurological issue. Either way, your vet will need to start immediate medical care to help them stop having seizures.
2. Your dog cannot get up and walk on his own: If your dog is not able to stand at all, it would be best to see your vet. Usually, home remedies will not help your pet.
3. Your dog is dragging his back legs: Many times, this indicates a slipped disc. Depending on the severity, your dog may need surgery. Often, if surgery is not done within the first 24 hours of you noticing these signs, there is a very small chance that your dog will walk again.
If your dog is lethargic, vomiting, has diarrhea, or just does not seem right and is not improving, it is best that your dog sees your veterinarian as soon as possible. Many of these issues will require emergency care or can be life-threatening.
Depending on what signs your dog is displaying, there are many different tests that your vet may recommend, such as:
- Bloodwork: Most vets will want to run bloodwork to see if there is anything going on with your dog’s organs causing them to lose balance and fall over. Things like low blood sugar can cause your dog to be very weak and for him to fall over.
- Radiographs: If your vet thinks that your dog has joint issues or back disease, taking x-rays can show if your dog’s signs are due to any joint or back disease. Your vet can see if there is any arthritis in your dog’s back or hips causing him to fall over.
- CT Scan: If your vet thinks that your dog has something going on with his brain, they may recommend that your dog have a CT scan. This would be able to determine if there is a tumor on your dog’s brain or other abnormalities causing these issues.
- Cerebral Spinal Fluid Analysis: Infections in your dog’s spinal fluid can cause your dog to act like he has a neurological problem. In rare cases your vet may want to take a sample of the CSF fluid to see if your dog has an infection.
What you Should Know / What Should You Do Before the Vet Visit
“If your dog is having intermittent issues, it would be a great idea to take a video recording of the episode, and document all episodes. This will help your vet understand what is going on with your dog. Also ask your vet if you should bring a urine or stool sample with you.”
If your dog is having issues walking and they are falling over, it would be best to see your vet. Before seeing your vet, these are some things that you can do to make your vet visit easier.
- Record videos of the episodes, if possible.
- Document all episodes of seizure activity.
- Write down all symptoms and issues that your dog is having. Let your vet know even if you do not feel they are very important.
- Bring a urine or stool sample if possible.
- Ask your vet about any supplements or diet changes that you can make to help your dog
If My Dog in Pain?
If your dog is in a lot of discomfort, you will be able to tell easily. Most dogs who are in pain will be breathing heavily and will cry in pain or yelp when you try to move them. Learn more about signs of pain in dogs.
2 Dog Owner Examples (Dog is Losing Balance and Falling Over)
Example 1: Maggie
My dog Maggie is walking in circles and her right side and hind legs seem to be losing balance. What is going on? It happened this morning suddenly!
Your answer: Dogs who walk in circles and are losing balance can be doing this for many different reasons, such as inner ear infection, brain tumor, or stroke. Many times, you can look into your dog’s ear and see that there is an infection. Brain tumors and strokes usually happen in older dogs. If your dog has an inner ear infection, your vet will prescribe your dog antibiotics to help clear these infections. Brain tumors and strokes can sometimes be managed with medication for a little while.
Example 2: Rudy
My older dog Rudy is 13. He has a condition where he shakes constantly, sometimes loses balance, and now yelps in pain for no reason. He’s going to the vet tomorrow. What do you think is the problem?
Your answer: Older dogs can have a disease known as canine cognitive dysfunction. This is very similar to dementia in people. These dogs will constantly shake, causing them to lose their balance and fall over. They may also be walking aimlessly around the house and seem like they are constantly lost. There are medications and brain diets that your dog can take to help with these issues. Some dogs will even act as though they are in pain. Your vet can prescribe your dog pain medication to help him feel much better.
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.