Loss of Balance in Dogs

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial
Published: August 16, 2010
Loss of Balance in Dogs

Image via kittipodraemwanith/Shutterstock

Loss of Balance in Dogs

A dog who suddenly loses her sense of balance is experiencing disequilibrium and could be suffering from a serious health problem—one that requires immediate veterinary attention.

A dog’s loss of balance is just one of many signs that can indicate a serious health concern involving the nervous system. These signs should all be taken seriously, and they warrant immediate attention from a veterinarian.

Primary Cause

Balance is the role of the vestibular system. The vestibular system involves the middle and inner ear, several large cranial nerves, and the brain. Disequilibrium means an impaired sense of balance.

Some of the most common causes of disequilibrium are trauma, middle ear infections, cancer and poisoning. Disequilibrium is more common in older dogs.

Immediate Care

Loss of balance needs to be distinguished from difficulty walking. Difficulty walking can be neurologic or orthopedic, meaning coming from a nerve problem or muscle problem (among other, rare causes). The two can be difficult to distinguish, and you may need to consult your veterinarian.

Loss of balance may be accompanied by other signs such as a head tilt, eyes that move uncontrollably, attempts to walk in a circle or vomiting. Difficulty walking is more likely to result in slow or incomplete movements.

Once you determine that your pet is experiencing disequilibrium, keep the dog safe. Keep her away from stairs and sharp corners of furniture, off of furniture and away from the pool.

Search the surroundings for signs that she may have ingested a poison (look for wrappers/containers, vomit, debris). If you are outdoors, bring the dog into a temperature-controlled area. Call your veterinarian or the local emergency clinic immediately and describe your dog’s symptoms.

If your dog has or is prone to ear infections, examine the ears for signs of discharge, wax or inflammation. Severe ear infections can lead to loss of balance in dogs.

If your dog is diabetic or epileptic or has another chronic disease, provide treatment as recommended by your veterinarian.

Diagnosing Loss of Balance in Dogs

Your veterinarian will perform a full physical and neurologic exam. She may recommend bloodwork, urinalysis and diagnostic imaging to help determine the cause of your dog’s disequilibrium.

Your veterinarian will likely prescribe dog medications to reduce the nausea associated with disequilibrium. Depending on the cause, your veterinarian may prescribe other medications or treatments.

If the disequilibrium is due to ingestion of a poison, your veterinarian will need to remove the poison from your dog’s system, flush the system with fluids and give medications specific to the type of poison ingested.

Seeing your dog lose their balance can be scary for both you and your dog. Stay calm and follow the recommendation of your veterinarian. 

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