If you've noticed that your cat or dog is stumbling, staggering, or falling over, it could be due to one or more underlying medical issues such as poisoning, injury, infection, or stroke. Our vets in Seattle strongly recommend bringing your pet to an animal hospital immediately if you observe any of these symptoms. 

Why is my cat or dog staggering?

If you notice that your dog or cat is having difficulty standing up or falling over, it may indicate a serious health problem. There are a variety of potential health issues that can cause these symptoms, which we will discuss in this post. It is important to seek immediate emergency medical attention for your pet, so you should take them to a veterinary hospital right away.


Cats and dogs have three types of ataxia: cerebellar, vestibular, and sensory. Ataxia is a condition where there is a loss of coordination in the head, limbs, or back end due to sensory dysfunction in the nervous system. Many diseases can cause this health problem. 

Cerebellar ataxia is caused by damage to the cerebellum, while sensory ataxia is caused by spinal cord compression due to a bulging intervertebral disc or tumor. Issues with the brain stem or inner ear cause vestibular ataxia. 

Common symptoms of ataxia in cats and dogs include staggering, stumbling, and falling over, as well as abnormal walking (taking large steps), weakness, swaying, and tremors in the head and body. Your pet may also tilt its head or experience a lack of appetite or difficulty hearing. Other potential symptoms include changes in behavior or lethargy. 

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

Brain Inflammation 

Encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, can cause staggering, falling, fever, depression, decreased consciousness, seizures, and paralysis in pets. Fungal infections, tick-borne diseases, and parasites can cause it.

Brain Tumor

As pets grow older, they may become more vulnerable to brain tumors, which can cause them to lose their balance and stagger. The symptoms of brain tumors can vary depending on the tumor's location. They may include seizures, pain, tremors, swaying, head tilting, changes in behavior or appetite, a wide stance, eye flicking, pacing, or lack of coordination.

Ear Infection 

Pets, both cats and dogs, can experience loss of balance due to infections in their middle or inner ear. If your pet is suffering from an ear infection, you may notice additional symptoms like eye flickering, walking in circles, scratching near the ear, head shaking, swelling, redness, odor, and discharge in or around the affected ear.


Inner ear damage, head trauma, and other injuries can cause pets to lose their balance. It can sometimes be challenging to tell if your pet is injured since both cats and dogs tend to mask pain. Change in 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. 


While strokes in dogs are fairly uncommon, they can occur. In cats, strokes are most commonly diagnosed in kitties that are around nine years old. They seem to occur less frequently in pets than in people. They 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 distorders.

If your dog appears to be unsteady and stumbling, similar to being drunk, it could be a sign of a stroke. Symptoms of strokes in both cats and dogs can also include circling, walking unsteadily, unequal pupil sizes, abnormal eye movements, loss of vision or balance, falling down, head pressing (possibly due to a headache), changed mental state, muscle spasms, or a head tilt.

Common Remedies for Loss of Balance in Pets

If your cat or dog is having trouble walking or standing, and is staggering or falling over, it's important to take them to the vet as soon as possible. Our veterinarians are equipped to diagnose the issue and recommend a treatment option based on the specific problem.

The treatment options can vary widely depending on the diagnosis and may include medications, surgery, a combination of different types of therapies, physical rehabilitation, and more.

When to Seek Emergency Care

It is important to seek immediate veterinary attention if your dog or cat is staggering, stumbling, or falling over. These symptoms may indicate pain and other health issues that may be life-threatening. Time is of the essence in these cases, and delaying treatment may worsen their prognosis. 

Please contact your primary veterinarian for further instructions if you need emergency assistance during regular business hours.

In the event that your pet is diagnosed with an eye-related health issue or requires additional diagnostic testing, your vet may refer you to our veterinary ophthalmological clinic located in Seattle.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical or behavioral advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.

Is your pet experiencing stumbling or falling? Contact our veterinarians in Seattle to book an appointment.