Otodectic mites are tiny insects that live in the ear canals and
feed by piercing the skin. They are highly contagious to cats and dogs, but not to humans. Ear
mites are the most common cause of ear symptoms in puppies and young adult
dogs. Suspect ear mites when both of the dog’s ears are involved.
Ear mites should not be confused with the mites that cause sarcoptic mange. This is an entirely
different disease, but one whose signs can include crusty ear tips (see
Scabies, page 126).
Injury, stroke, poisoning, and infections can all cause your dog to lose its balance. Because these things can be dangerous or even life-threatening, call your vet immediately if your dog is falling down.
Dog Loss of Balance: Common Causes and Treatments
A few of the more common causes of falling down in dogs include:
Vestibular Syndrome. Vestibular syndrome is caused by dysfunction of the inner ear. Because the symptoms occur suddenly, they are sometimes confused with symptoms of stroke. Along with loss of balance and falling over, signs may include head tilt, walking in circles, vomiting, nausea, and flicking of the eyes from side to side.
Treating vestibular syndrome depends on the cause. Many dogs need support for secondary symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.
Ear Infection. Inner ear infections are a common cause of dogs losing their balance. Other symptoms include head shaking and scratching, eye flicking, walking in circles. Often there may be redness, swelling, discharge, and odor associated with the affected ear.
Left untreated, infections of the external parts of the ear can move deeper, become more serious, and lead to complications like inner ear infection or meningitis. So always have your dog seen by a veterinarian if you suspect an ear infection. Treating ear infections may include a professional cleaning, topical medications, antibiotics, and possibly surgery for chronic or serious infections.
Injury. Injuries such as head trauma or damage to the inner ear can cause dogs to lose their balance. Your dog can't tell you when it's in pain, and dogs sometimes mask hurt with behaviors such as wagging their tail. So it's important to be aware of canine signs of pain. They include slower reflexes, heavy panting, biting or licking the wounded area, anxiety, enlarged pupils, reluctance to lie down, and change in appetite.
Stroke. Strokes in dogs are fairly uncommon. But they do happen. A stroke can be caused by many things, including blood clots, hemorrhage, head trauma, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and even migrating worms. Symptoms of stroke in dogs include loss of balance, head tilt, circling, falling down, and loss of vision.
Treating stroke involves managing the underlying problem and preventing additional strokes. It also includes caring for the aftereffects of a stroke.
Tumors. Brain tumors are common in older dogs. They can also happen in younger dogs, especially boxers and Boston terriers. Brain tumors can lead to a loss of balance, as well as a host of other symptoms.
The exact symptoms depend on the tumor and its location. They may include seizures, behavior changes, changes in appetite or thirst, signs of pain, head tilt, swaying, a wide stance, lack of coordination, head tremors, flicking of the eye, and pacing. Treating brain tumors may involve chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and other care.
Other Reasons for Loss of Balance in Dogs
Any process which causes inflammation of the brain -- referred to as encephalitis -- may cause a dog to lose its balance. Encephalitis can result from tick-borne diseases, fungal infections, protozoal infections, and many other causes. Other signs include fever and depression.
Your vet can help you and your pet share a long and happy life together. If you have any questions about your dog's health, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about your concerns.