Sudden loss of balance and coordination can occur in any dog but most often affects older dogs. An inability to stay upright on all four legs can usually be linked to an underlying medical condition that may require lifelong treatment and care. If a previously healthy dog is struggling to stand and maintain their balance, it’s time to see your veterinarian.
Common Causes of Balance Issues in Dogs
Loss of balance can be caused by many different canine health problems, all of which may require medical treatment and regular veterinary care. Here are a few of the most common reasons why an older dog may struggle with its balance:
A dog’s balance is regulated by its vestibular system located in the brain as well as in the inner and middle ear. Vestibular disease is the main reason why an older dog may experience a sudden loss of balance and an inability to stand or walk normally. How can you tell if a dog has a vestibular disease? A few of the signs include dizziness, stumbling or wobbly steps, and falling over. Pets may also tilt their head or splay their legs out to the side to maintain balance. If the dizziness is excessive, it may cause motion sickness and even vomiting.
Your veterinarian will treat the cause of the condition, and in most cases, the balance issues will resolve over the course of several weeks. Dogs with vestibular disease will require rest and a safe place to recover, including supporting them when they walk to avoid injury.
When a dog has a stroke, it can impair the dog’s ability to stand upright and walk. A dog can experience mobility issues after a stroke that include balance issues, the pet favoring one side of its body over the other and struggling to support itself in a standing position. Depending on the case, the mobility deficits may be temporary, and in severe cases, the dog may need rehabilitation to recover.
Spinal and disc disease can cause immediate paralysis and loss of leg strength. After a disc rupture, many dogs lose back leg function, drag their hind legs, and will struggle to stand or even walk without assistance. Even those pets that can still move their hind legs can have a hard time getting their legs underneath them and standing upright.
Dachshunds and Corgis are considered high risk for disc disease, but many other breeds can also be impacted. Back injuries and sudden paralysis require immediate diagnosis, and your dog needs to be seen by a pet professional as soon as possible.
A seizure can cause a dog to lose their balance and fall over. Most seizures in dogs are over very quickly, but they should be taken seriously. Their veterinarian must see your dog immediately to determine the cause and severity of your dog’s seizures. Most seizure disorders can be managed through daily medication, but your dog may require further treatment if there is an underlying neurological condition.
Although not common, diabetic pets can develop neuropathy in their back legs. This means that the hind legs become weak, shaky, and uncoordinated. As the pet loses strength in its hind end, it may struggle to stand or walk on its own. Diabetic cats are more prone to neuropathy than dogs.
At 12 years old, Fox Terrier mix, Sadie became paralyzed from diabetic neuropathy. Sadie’s parent Taylor Tavares, says getting Sadie a wheelchair made all the difference. “Sadie always had so much energy, we figured it was best to keep her hyper self busy with wheels! She took to them so amazingly well from day one. Sadie loves to chase her ball and bite at the water hose. This old girl loves life and loves her wheels.”
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is an age-related decline in cognitive abilities that is incredibly common in senior pets. Reportedly impacting 68% of dogs between 15-16 years old, and 50% of cats in the same age range.
The condition often goes undiagnosed due to people assuming the change in their pet’s behavior is a normal part of aging. In actuality, this condition should be taken seriously, and any change in behavior should be reported to your veterinarian. CCD is sometimes compared to Alzheimer’s or dementia, and the symptoms are very similar to those in humans. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction can cause unsteadiness in its movements, the pet may become less engaged and aware, and can become disoriented or unable to settle.
Other medical issues that can impact a dog’s balance include:
- Ear infection, specifically an inner ear infection
- Kidney failure
- Ingesting something poisonous
- Neurological conditions
- Cerebellar Hypoplasia
- Wobbler’s Syndrome
How to Help a Dog That Falls Down or Loses Balance
To stay healthy, dogs need exercise, which can be challenging for a senior dog that staggers and suddenly falls over. Dogs with balance issues may lose confidence and become less active because of their struggles. Luckily, there are mobility aids available to help support your dog and assist them in staying active.
Lift Support Harness
A support harness is a simple and safe way to lift your dog and help it maintain its balance. The first step to choosing the correct harness is understanding where your dog needs the most support. Different harnesses provide support to different parts of your dog.
Since leg weakness tends to impact a dog’s back legs first, most dogs will need support in their hind end. In that case, the best option is a rear lift harness. A harness that provides balanced support across the entire body might be the best option for pets who stumble and fall regularly.
An assistive device, such as a dog wheelchair, will give your dog back its independence. The cart’s wheels offer additional support, which helps a dog maintain their balance and confidently stay on all four feet. Dogs with severe balance issues may need a four-wheel wheelchair, which will support them in the front as well as the back legs. A quad cart will help to steady a dog whose wobbly and provide full body support so that it can walk without falling over.