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My Pet Can't Stand & Keeps Falling - Possible Causes & What To Do

Has your pet been staggering, stumbling or falling over? One or more underlying medical issues may be the culprit, including injury, infection, poisoning or stroke. Our veterinarians in Mechanicsburg explain why you should take your pet to an animal hospital as soon as possible. 

Why is my pet staggering?

If your pet can't stand up or keeps falling over, they may be experiencing any number of severe health issues. Some of these issues we'll cover in this post. This issues likely means your pet will need emergency care. 


A condition related to sensory dysfunction in the nervous system, ataxia leads to a loss of coordination in the head, limbs or back end. Pets can be affected by three types of ataxia: cerebellar, vestibular and sensory. A wide range of diseases can cause this condition. 

Damage to the cerebellum causes cerebellar ataxia, while sensory ataxia is triggered by the spinal cord being compressed due to a bulging intervertebral disc or tumor. Vestibular ataxia is caused by an issue with the inner ear or brain stem. 

Together with the stumbling, staggering and falling over is common with other health conditions. Common signs of ataxia in pets include abnormal walking (taking large steps), tremors in the head and body, weakness, and swaying back and forth. You may also notice some difficulty hearing, changes in behavior, lack of appetite, lethargy, and head tilting in your pet. 

Cats with sudden onset of ataxia often fall or roll to one side and experience significant nausea due to feeling so unsteady. Cats with chronic ataxia will typically adjust over time and are less likely to feel nauseated. 

Ear Infection 

Middle or inner ear infections are a common cause of balance-loss in both dogs and cats. If your pet has an ear infection, you may also notice symptoms like walking in circles, eye flicking, head shaking, and scratching near the ear. These usually accompany redness, swelling, discharge, and odor in or around the affected ear. 


Inner ear damage, head trauma, and other injuries can cause pets to lose their balance. It can be challenging to tell if your pet is injured, however, since both cats and dogs tend to mask pain. Change sin appetite, slowed reflexes, licking or biting a wounded area, heavy panting, anxiety, and reluctance to lie down or put pressure on the area can all indicate pain, and thus an injury. 

Brain Inflammation

Encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, can cause a cat or dog to stagger or fall over. Fungal infections, parasites, and tick-borne diseases can all cause brain inflammation. Seizures, head tilt to either side, facial paralysis, fever, decreased consciousness, and depression are other symptoms of brain inflammation. 

Brain Tumor

Senior pets may be especially vulnerable to brain tumors. This can lead to staggering, stumbling, and general loss of balance. Other symptoms of a brain tumor will vary depending on the tumor's location and can include changes in eating habits and behavior. Other symptoms include signs of pain mentioned above, seizures, swaying, a wide stance, head tilting or tremors, pacing, flicking of the eye and lack of coordination. 


While strokes in dogs are fairly uncommon, they can occur. In cats, strokes strokes most commonly happen when the cat is around nine years old. Strokes can be the result of high blood pressure, hemorrhage, blood clots, rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, migrating worms, head trauma ,or other serious disorders.

If your pet 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 pet can't walk or stand up and is staggering or falling over, take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. A veterinarian should be able to diagnose the issue and recommend a treatment option depending on the problem. 

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 pet that is staggering, stumbling or falling over requires immediate veterinary attention. They may be suffering from pain and other symptoms, and their life may be in danger. Time may be a critical factor in their survival. 

If you are experiencing an emergency with your pet during regular hours, contact us for more information. Other local hospitals provide emergency care after hours. If your pet sees our Mechanicsburg 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? You can trust our Mechanicsburg veterinarians to provide quality care for your furry friend. Contact us today to book an examination for your four-legged friend.

Walk-in Patients Welcome

At Rossmoyne Animal Emergency Trauma Center you never need an appointment to access our full complement of emergency services. We treat both walk-in patients and referrals for urgent veterinary care.

Contact Us

Contact (717) 796-2334