Updated at: 26-12-2021 - By: petstutorial

What do you do when, all of a sudden, your dog starts walking around like he has had a few too many martinis? The term for this uncoordinated gait is “ataxia,” and the type of ataxia that causes dogs to walk like they are drunk is called a “vestibular ataxia.”


Why Wobbling Occurs in Dogs

Why your dog may be wobbling has to do with the cause of the incoordination he is experiencing.


Disorientation is an altered state where your dog’s direction is lost. It can occur as a result of many conditions that affect the central nervous system or inner ear. Age related dementia can also affect your dog, causing him to become confused even in familiar places.

Spinal Cord Problems

Many conditions that can occur to the spinal cord can affect your dog’s balance and coordination. These can include bulging disks, tumors, infections, inflammation, trauma, and diseases such as degenerative myelopathy that can result in paralysis. Wobbler syndrome affects the spine in the neck area, and causes a wobbly gait that is especially seen when the affected dog walks slowly, or on slippery floors.

Muscle Weakness

Muscle weakness and atrophy can result from many conditions, and can cause dogs to be wobbly and unbalanced. Myasthenia gravis causes a disruption in electrical signals from the nerves to the muscles, while myositis is an inflammation of muscle tissue that can result in an inability to walk.

Gait Problems

Many injuries and malfunctions in the nerves and muscles of the limbs and feet can result in a loss of balance and incoordination, or ataxia. Such conditions as a ruptured cruciate ligament, hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, or osteochondritis dissecans can cause pain that can influence your dog’s ability to walk.


Inner Ear Problems

The inner ear is where the sense of balance originates, and when it is damaged, that balance can be lost. Infections, inflammation, tumors, and trauma to this sensitive area can cause your dog to be shaky and uncoordinated. When the inner ear is functioning abnormally, or a disruption is caused by the brainstem, it is often referred to as a vestibular syndrome.

Brain Condition

Brain tumors, infections, and inflammation can affect your dog’s ability to balance and walk properly, as well as affect nerve function. Abnormalities in the cerebellum and degenerative changes that can occur due to disease and old age can also affect nerve function.

Canine Distemper

Distemper is a highly contagious viral infection that your dog can catch from contact with infected animals. The virus affects the nervous system, resulting in twitches, seizures, and eventually, paralysis.


When the body loses too much water, it can cause water levels to become dangerously low. As the body compensates by drawing water from individual cells, essential electrolytes are lost. This can severely affect muscle function. Dehydration can also occur from high levels of sugar, as the body increases urination in an attempt to balance those levels.


Anemia is a condition where the amount of circulating red blood cells are significantly reduced. Red blood cells transport oxygen to all the cells of the body, including those in the muscles. If there aren’t enough red blood cells to take the oxygen to the muscles, then those cells become starved and weaken. Anemia can also affect the brain and cause disorientation and dizziness.

Toxin ingestion

The ingestion of certain toxins such as alcohol, antifreeze or rat bait can cause a range of affects and may affect the gait. If you suspect your dog has eaten something that they shouldn’t have, the sooner they are seen by a vet the better. The vet may induce vomiting and start supportive care such as intravenous fluids.

Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

This condition tends to come on suddenly in senior dogs. Many owners fear they have had a stroke as they walk about like a ‘drunken sailor’. Other signs can include nausea and a flickering of the eyes. Thankfully, the prognosis is very good with most dogs making a full recovery in a matter of days.

Liver or kidney failure

When toxins build up in the body secondary to organ failure, one of the possible signs your dog will experience is a wobbly and uncoordinated gait. They may also act confused. A blood test should diagnose these disorders with ease

What to do if your Dog is Wobbling

If your dog is wobbling, you will need to monitor him. He may be suffering from a serious condition and a vet visit is advised.

Your veterinarian will need to know about any other symptoms you may have noticed besides the incoordination, and may ask you questions about your dog’s feeding and elimination habits, exposure to sick animals, or if he has had any injuries. A complete physical, and neurological exam will be performed, along with blood and urine tests, imaging techniques such as MRIs, X-rays, and CT scans. Muscle and nerve biopsies, and cerebrospinal fluid, may be taken and analyzed.


Diagnostic testing should reveal the cause of your dog’s instability, and treatment should follow accordingly. Dehydration and electrolyte loss often only need fluid therapy to replace what is missing. Inner ear infections can be cleared up through the use of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Many muscle, nerve, and brain conditions may need supportive care and , depending on the severity. Tumors can sometimes be treated through surgical removal, chemotherapy, or radiation. If canine distemper is found to be affecting your dog, medications to control digestive and neurological symptoms can be administered, as well as other supportive therapies. Pain medications are also given as needed for many conditions.

A dog affected by chronic wobbling or instability can benefit from small environmental changes that can help him stay balanced, such as non-slippery surfaces and the removal of obstacles. Some will require a sling to help them go to the toilet.

Prevention of Wobbling

Many of the conditions that can lead to a loss of balance are not predictable. Routine check-ups can help you to catch any conditions before they progress beyond the point of treatment. To ensure your dog does not become dehydrated, always have water available for him to drink, and report an excessive increase in urination to your veterinarian. Getting your dog vaccinated for canine distemper is the best way to protect him from this fatal virus. Treat any outer ear infections promptly to ensure they do not worsen. Keep your dog well away from any toxins

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