Drunken Gait/Ataxia in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Stumbling Around?
Dogs, typically, are not drunkards.
I’m not counting the odd numbnut who might get the bright idea of getting their dog to drink some beer to see what happens.
If your dog stumbles around drunkenly, they’re not likely to sleep it off.
I have experienced an uncoordinated, unbalanced gait with my dogs four too many times. The first time, it was after Jasmine’s severe drug-induced hyperthermia.
Jasmine could barely stand at all, and when she did walk, she was stumbling and falling all over. The high body temperature “fried” her platelets, her muscles, and her liver. She was in terrible shape and ended up in a veterinary ICU for a week. It took a whole month for her to get back to normal. Our frustration was convincing the vets that her inability to walk had nothing to do with her knee surgeries.
The second time Jasmine had severe deficits in the ability to walk was with her neck disc injury. In some ways, it looked similar; in others, it did not. No idea how that happened either. She was fine one day and wasn’t the next, not having done anything in between.
The last time it wasn’t clear what happened; As it seemed, a bunch of problems combined into a terminal situation.
JD’s ataxia [the official word for unsteadiness when walking caused by a neurologic problem] started subtly in the morning. He returned from a walk before it was over and looked like he had a bit of a hard time with his hind end. At first, we thought it was possibly a side effect of his meds. The veterinarians agreed. It should have resolved within 24 hours, but things had gone downhill quickly. The hypothesis was an infection or a tumor in the brain, somewhere right behind his eye. We decided not to put him through the process of trying to diagnose something that likely wouldn’t be treatable.
Cookie’s gait issues
Cookie had a couple of episodes of what looked like partial paralysis. But, out of all things, it turned out to be iliopsoas injury.
Potential causes of drunken gait in dogs
A common cause of drunken gait is a vestibular disease.
This also likely looks the most like a drunken sailor type of walking. The onset is sudden and usually comes with a head tilt and jerky eye movements. Similar symptoms can also be caused by an inner ear infection, trauma, tumors, and certain medications. Or it can happen for no reason anybody can figure out, idiopathic.
Ataxia caused by vestibular disease is due to a disturbance in the balance center. That is similar to you spinning fast and falling over when you stop. Your brain doesn’t know which way is up or down.
The vestibular system is composed of parts of the brain and inner ear, so disturbances to either of those places can lead to ataxia.
The failure of the unconscious body awareness, proprioception.
This results from poor information flow between the limbs and the brain.
Common causes include:
- intervertebral disc issue
- immune-mediated conditions
- or other problem affecting the spinal cord
If the communication lines break down, the limbs are willing to listen, but incomplete instructions get through.
The problem can lie in the brain itself.
If the command center is compromised, the body cannot do its job without the essential guidance. This, again, can be the work of inflammation, infection, tumor, degenerative changes, or structural abnormalities.
Systemic and metabolic issues such as anemia, electrolyte disturbances, and toxic exposures can result in ataxia.
Low blood sugar, low potassium, or anemia, for example, can impair brain function as well the ability of the muscles to execute any commands they might receive. In addition, exposure to toxins and medication adverse reactions can have similar effects.
Except for vestibular disease, our dogs managed to cover all of these.
As you can see, the potential reasons behind your dog’s incoordination can be many, often serious.
The problem may lie in the brain, inner ear, spinal cord, or elsewhere in the body. The underlying cause can be:
Accompanying symptoms may vary but unless your dog has already been diagnosed with idiopathic vestibular syndrome, see a vet asap.
Idiopathic Vestibular Disease: Phoenix’s Story
Ataxia in Dogs
Thanks for writing this.-
My dog is already at the vets but I thought I’d ask.
She’s a cocker spaniel just turned 1 called Isla. She was fine this morning had a walk 10.30 for 1 hour or so
When we got home she went to sleep on my parents bed. My mum was there too (resting an injury)
But come 1ish she normally starts following us around for lunch. My mum got up but Isla didn’t follow. She thought Isla seemed particularly sleepy.
A while later I went to get Isla for food. But she was so sleepy. She wouldn’t get up. I got her up but she stumbled around like a drunk doggy and plopped back down. She was sort of drifting in and out of sleep. She would open her eyes if we said her name loudly but that was it.
So we have taken her to the vets. They’re running tests checking for potential toxin ingestion or even epilepsy. Keeping her in over night.
Liver and kidneys came back fine.
We looked around the house in case she ate some medicine but can’t find anything to suggest that she has. However we have spotted some mushrooms in the garden. They appear to be hortiboletus rubellus which I’ve tried googling but nothing seems to suggest they are the culprit.
When we got home We also noticed that she peed on the bed where she’d been sleeping.
So sorry about Isla. Yes, sounds like some toxin; could have been something outside too. Did the vet figure it out?