Skip to Main Content

My dog is stumbling like drunk! What's wrong?

My dog is stumbling like drunk! What's wrong?

Our Matthews vets know how alarming it can be to see your dog suddenly staggering and losing their balance as if they've had a few too many drinks. What's happening? Below are a few possible reasons why your dog is stumbling and falling down, and what you should do.

Why is my dog stumbling when walking?

Symptoms such as your dog stumbling or losing their balance should never be ignored. Loss of balance and coordination can indicate a serious medical emergency. If your dog shows symptoms related to any of the following health issues it's time to head to your vet or the nearest emergency animal hospital straight away!

If you notice that your dog is suddenly stumbling and losing their balance they could be suffering from any of the following health issues. 

Vestibular Disease

Vestibular disease also called 'Old dog syndrome' or canine idiopathic vestibular disease, or vestibular syndrome is a non-progressive balance disorder typically due to problems within your dog's inner ear, or middle ear. Although this condition is generally seen in older dogs, dogs of any age can get vestibular disease.

As well as stumbling and loss of balance, signs of vestibular disease can include head tilting, walking in circles, vomiting, nausea, and flicking of the eyes from side to side. This condition isn't painful or dangerous for your dog and will likely clear up on its own within a couple of weeks without treatment, however it is important to call your vet if your dog is showing signs of vestibular disease so that other causes for your dog's symptoms can be ruled out.

Dogs suffering from nausea due to vestibular disease can be prescribed anti-nausea medication, and in some cases IV fluids if they are having difficulties drinking from their water bowl.

Ear Infections

Inner ear infections are another common cause of staggering and stumbling in dogs. Other signs of ear infections include redness, swelling, discharge, and odor in or around the affected ear as well as head shaking and scratching, walking in circles, and eye flicking.

It is essential to have your dog examined by a vet if they are showing signs of an ear infection. Leaving even minor ear infections untreated could lead to serious complications such as more severe inner ear infections or even meningitis.

Treatments may include professional cleaning, topical medications, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories. In more severe cases surgery may be required to treat chronic or serious infections.


Your dog's balance issues could be the result of head trauma, injury or damage to their inner ear. Dogs are particularly good at masking signs of pain, often making it difficult for pet parents to spot a problem such as head trauma if there are no obvious signs of external injury.

Signs that your dog may be experiencing pain include heavy panting, slowed reflexes, loss of appetite, enlarged pupils, biting or licking at a particular spot, reluctance to lie down, anxiety, tail tucked, and ears down.

If your dog shows any signs of pain a immediate trip to the vet or emergency animal hospital is essential. Treatments for your dog's head trauma will depend upon the actual injury.


Although strokes in pets do occur, they don't happen often. A stroke could affect any part of your dog's brain resulting in a wide range of symptoms. 

Some common signs of strokes in dogs include stumbling and balance loss, head tilt, circling, loss of vision, howling, limping, housetraining accidents, seizures, abnormal eye movements and in some cases collapse.

If your dog is showing signs of a stroke contact your vet right away or visit your nearest animal emergency hospital. 

Brain Tumor

Sometimes brain tumors will occur in dogs, particularly senior dogs, and can cause your dog to be stumbling around like drunk. If your dog has a brain tumor the symptoms will depend upon the location of the tumor but typically include changes in behavior and/or appetite, seizures, signs of pain, head tilt, swaying, a wide stance, lack of coordination, head tremors, pacing, and flicking of the eye.

All of these symptoms warrant a trip to the vet as soon as possible, so contact your vet right away.

Brain Inflammation

Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain, can cause dogs to stumble and fall over. Brain inflammation can occur due to a number of issues including fungal infections, tick-borne diseases, and parasites. Dogs suffering from encephalitis can also experience lethargy, depression and fever.

Contact your vet right away if your dog is showing any signs of brain inflammation.

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Matthews our Board Certified Neurology Specialists have vast experience diagnosing and treating dogs suffering from neurological issues that lead to stumbling and loss of balance. Contact us today to find out more.

Caring for Pets in Matthews

Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Matthews accepts new clients to our specialty services by referral only. Our emergency service accepts all clients.

Contact Us

(704) 815-3939 Contact