My Dog Keeps Falling Down

Although most of us who own aging dogs are accustomed to seeing our dogs lounging on their sides, dogs are, in fact, designed to support their own weight for lengthy periods of time. Their four sturdy legs serve them well in this respect, and their musculoskeletal system is structured to withstand a great deal of wear and tear.

With this in mind, it should be both a surprise and a concern when a dog repeatedly stumbles and/or falls down. You need to figure out whether the stumbling or falling is due to weakness, pain, or loss of balance. Further investigation may reveal whether the cause is musculoskeletal, neurological, or cardiologic in nature.

What to Look For

Start by placing your dog in a balanced standing position on a flat, even surface. Sit or stand facing her and observe her closely. Look at the way she holds her body, paying particular attention to the carriage of her head and neck, the position of her tail, and the symmetry of her four limbs.

To begin your closer examination, cradle your dog's head in your hands and look closely at her eyes for any unusual movements or differences in pupil size or response to light. Move her head gently in all directions to check for stiffness or pain. Examine her ears for heat, pain, and discharge. Open her mouth to check for evidence of pain, growths, or infection.

Next, move on to your dog's spine. Using your fingers in a “walking” manner, apply gentle but firm pressure to each sequential intervertebral space, checking for discomfort or weakness. Finally, examine each of your dog's limbs, first by lifting it up and placing it down with the top of the paw “knuckled” under. Check for your dog's reaction to this incorrect placement.

Next, lift each limb and put it through a normal range of motion, checking for discomfort, grinding, or cracking. If your dog is so unsteady on her feet that she has trouble maintaining an upright position during this part of the exam, lay her on her side and conduct the limb exams in that position. If, during the “knuckling” exercise, your dog fails to correct the position you have forced her paw into, pinch the toes of that paw and watch to see if she pulls her paw back.