Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

Why Can't My Dog or Cat Stand?

Why Can't My Dog or Cat Stand?

If your dog or cat is having trouble standing or keeping their balance, it can be due to an number of serious issues including injury, stroke, or an infection. Our Kittrell vets explain.

Why Your Dog Or Cat May Be Unable To Stand

If your cat or dog suddenly loses their ability to balance they could be suffering from any of the following serious health problem. This means your pet requires immediate attention and you should get to a veterinary hospital right away.

Sensory, Vestibular & Cerebellar Ataxia

Ataxia is a condition in dogs and cats that relates to a sensory dysfunction that results in a loss of coordination in the rear end, head, or limbs. There are three kinds of ataxia commonly seen in dogs: sensory, vestibular, and cerebellar.

  • Sensory ataxia is when the spinal cord becomes compressed due to a tumor or bulging intervertebral disk.
  • Vestibular ataxia results from an issue with the inner ear or brainstem.
  • Cerebellar ataxia occurs when the cerebellum becomes damaged. 

Signs of ataxia include staggering, stumbling and falling over, as well as flicking of the eyes from side to side, head tilt, walking in circles, vomiting, and nausea.

Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

Canine idiopathic vestibular disease, also known as 'old dog vestibular syndrome', is a sudden and non-progressive disturbance of your pet's balance. This disorder stems from issues affecting your pup's vestibular system within the inner ear, and middle ear. The symptoms of vestibular disease are typically most severe during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours, following that period your dog should begin to show notable improvement over the course of the following seventy-two hours.

Vestibular Disease in Cats

A loss of balance can occur when a cat is suffering from vestibular disease. Your cat may experience issues with standing on all four legs, and you may even notice your cat leaning or falling over at times, which can be a frightening sight.

The signs of vestibular disease may be related to another condition, such as an inner ear infection or head trauma. A physical exam is usually performed to check the overall health of your cat. This includes a neurologic exam and an otoscopic (ear) exam. You should also expect to answer questions about the cat's medical history and current signs.

Ear Infection

Inner ear infections are a common cause of balance loss in cats and dogs. If your pet has an ear infection, you may also notice additional symptoms like head shaking and scratching, walking in circles, and eye flicking, as well as redness, swelling, discharge, and odor in or around the affected ear.


Injuries such as head trauma or damage to the inner ear can cause pets to lose their balance. It can be hard to tell if your cat or dog is injured because pets tend to mask pain. Signs that indicate your pet may be in pain include heavy panting, slowed reflexes, change in appetite, enlarged pupils, biting or licking the wounded area, anxiety, and reluctance to lie down.


While strokes in pets are fairly uncommon, they can happen. A stroke can be the result of blood clots, high blood pressure, hemorrhage, head trauma, kidney disease, or migrating worms. If your dog or cat is having a stroke, you may notice a loss of balance, head tilt, circling, falling down, and loss of vision.

Brain Tumor

Brain tumors sometimes occur in pets, especially older ones, and can lead to staggering, stumbling and general loss of balance. Other symptoms of a brain tumor depend on the location of the tumor, and include changes in behavior and/or appetite, seizures, signs of pain, head tilt, swaying, a wide stance, lack of coordination, head tremors, flicking of the eye, and pacing.

Brain Inflammation

Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain can cause a dog or cat to stagger, stumble, or fall over. This serious condition can result from fungal infections, tick-borne diseases, and parasites, among other causes. Some other common symptoms of encephalitis include fever and depression.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog or cat keeps falling over, is staggering, or can't stand up contact our Kittrell vets right away for urgent veterinary care or contact an after-hours clinic near you.

Welcome to Our Veterinary Clinic!

At Kittrell Animal Hospital we operate as a walk-in clinic for cats and dogs, so if you require veterinary care, call us to inform us you are on your way. We look forward to meeting you and your pet!

Book Online (252) 438-1294