My Dog Keeps Losing His Balance
Most dogs are not drinkers, so they never have a good excuse for losing their balance, especially when you consider that they have four, not two, legs to stand on. If your dog's balance seems off, it is always worth looking into. The possible reasons that should be sought to explain the incoordination, or ataxia, are infection, systemic illness, toxin ingestion, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and head trauma or other intracranial problems such as hemorrhage, stroke, aneurysm, or tumors.
What to Look For
You'll need to conduct three separate exams. First, do an ocular/neurological exam like the one outlined in “My Dog's Eyes Are Bulging”. Second, perform a thorough ear exam, as described in “My Dog Has a Discharge Coming from His Ear”, looking for evidence of discharge of any kind, particularly if it is yellowish to greenish in color and foul-smelling. Finally, perform a spinal exam, like the one in “My Dog Is Stiff” [not available online].
What to Do
Next ask yourself the following questions to figure out what to do:
- Has your dog been suffering from illness, infection, or high fever recently? If infection, generalized illness, and/or high fever are responsible for your dog's imbalance, the successful treatment of the cause should result in resolution of the symptoms.
- Did your neurological exam reveal any abnormalities? Inconsistencies and asymmetries in the neurological exam often indicate serious intracranial reasons for ataxia. If this is your suspicion, have your veterinarian arrange a neurological consult for your dog.
- Did your spinal check indicate evidence of vertebral or intervertebral discomfort? Pressure on your dog's spinal nerve roots as they emerge from his spinal cord and exit between his vertebrae can result in limb weakness, which looks like a loss of balance. These problems can often be treated medically and occasionally corrected through surgery. Once again, a veterinary neurologist can help you diagnose the cause.
When to Get the Vet
Has your dog recently suffered any form of head trauma? Intracranial changes subsequent to head trauma can often cause ataxia. When the imbalance begins a significant time after the trauma, it is more worrisome than if the imbalance follows close on its heels (in which case eventual resolution is more likely). In either case, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Has your dog recently gotten into any unusual chemicals or medications? Since many toxins have a direct effect on the nervous system, it is common for exposure to result in abnormal behaviors or neurological symptoms. Some products may even cause temporary blindness. If you know what chemicals or medications your dog has possibly ingested or inhaled, call the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 for immediate advice. Plan to make a trip to the nearest animal emergency facility as well.
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