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My Pet Can't Stand & Keeps Falling: Possible Causes & What to Do

If your dog or cat has been staggering, stumbling, or falling over, one or more underlying medical issues may be to blame. These can include infection, injury, poisoning, or stroke. Today, our Blountville vets discuss why you should take your pet to an animal hospital right away if this is happening.

Why is my pet staggering?

If your cat or dog can't stand up or keeps falling over, they may be suffering from any number of severe health issues, some of which we'll explore in this post. This means your pet will need immediate emergency care and you should take them to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible. 


Ataxia is a condition associated with sensory dysfunction in the nervous system, and can lead to loss of coordination in the head, limbs, or back end. Cats and dogs can experience three different types of ataxia: cerebellar, vestibular, and sensory. A wide range of diseases can cause this condition. 

Cerebellar ataxia is caused by cerebellar damage, whereas sensory ataxia occurs when the spinal cord is compressed due to a bulging intervertebral disc or tumor. Vestibular ataxia is caused by problems with the inner ear or the brain stem. 

Aside from the stumbling, staggering, and falling over associated with other health conditions, common symptoms of ataxia in cats and dogs include abnormal walking (large steps), weakness, swaying, and tremors in the head and body. You may also experience heaviness, lethargy, head tiling, a loss of appetite, and difficulty hearing.

Cats with sudden onset ataxia often fall or roll to one side and experience significant nausea due to feeling unsteady. In contrast, cats with chronic ataxia will typically adjust over time and are less likely to suffer from nausea. 

Ear Infection 

Infections of the middle or inner ear can cause dogs and cats to lose balance. If your pet has an ear infection, you may notice flickering eyes, head shaking, walking in circles, and scratching near the ear, as well as swelling, redness, odor, and discharge in or around the affected ear.


Pets who have suffered head trauma, inner ear damage, or other injuries may lose their sense of balance. It may be difficult to tell if your pet is injured because both cats and dogs can effectively mask pain. Slowed reflexes, licking or biting a wounded area, excessive panting, reluctance to lie down or apply pressure to a specific area, or a change in appetite can all indicate pain.

Brain Inflammation 

Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) can cause an animal to fall or stumble. Parasites, fungal infections, and tick-borne diseases can all cause this condition. Common encephalitis symptoms include head tilt, seizures, fever, decreased consciousness, depression, and facial paralysis.

Brain Tumor

Older pets may be more susceptible to brain tumors, which can cause staggering, stumbling, or a general loss of balance. Other symptoms of a brain tumor include changes in appetite or behavior, pain, seizures, swaying, a wide stance, head tilting or tremors, pacing, eye flicking, and a loss of coordination.


Strokes in dogs are uncommon, but they can occur. Strokes in cats are most commonly diagnosed in kitties aged nine years or older. They appear to occur less frequently in pets than in humans and can be caused by high blood pressure, hemorrhage, blood clots, a ruptured blood vessel in the brain, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, migrating worms, head trauma, or other serious disorders.

If your dog is staggering like he is drunk, he may have had a stroke. Stroke symptoms in both dogs and cats can also include circling, unsteadiness while walking, unequal pupil sizes, abnormal eye movements, loss of vision or balance, falling down, head pressing (potentially as a result of a headache), altered mental state, muscle spasms or head tilt.

Common Remedies for Loss of Balance in Pets

If your cat or dog is unable to walk or stand and is staggering or falling over, take them to the vet right away. Depending on the nature of the problem, one of our veterinarians will be able to diagnose it and recommend a treatment plan.

Treatment options vary widely depending on diagnosis, and can range from medications to surgery, combinations of different types of therapies, physical rehabilitation and more.

When to Seek Emergency Care

Any cat or dog that is falling over, staggering, or stumbling requires immediate veterinary attention because they may be in pain or experiencing other symptoms, and their life may be at risk. Time may be critical to their survival and prognosis.

If you are experiencing an emergency with your pet during regular hours or after hours, contact us right away. If your pet sees our Blountville vets, we can diagnose the issue and provide compassionate care and treatment. We may also recommend follow-up care or make referrals to experienced specialists. 

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 cat or dog been losing its balance? Contact our Blountville vets right away to arrange emergency care.

New Patients Welcome

Airport Pet Emergency Clinic is open weekday evenings, overnight, weekends and holidays to provide your pet with urgent care when needed. Our experienced Blountville vets are passionate about caring for companion animals.

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Contact (423) 279-0574