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Ataxia in Dogs: Losing Balance and Coordination


Ataxia means your dog has trouble moving normally and coordinating its body. Your dogs might also be rocking back and forth while standing. This happens when something harms its nervous system, like the brain, spinal cord, or nerves, stopping them from working well together. The signs of ataxia can be different depending on which part of the nervous system is damaged. If you notice your dog having these symptoms, it’s crucial to take them to the vet right away. The vet will figure out what’s wrong and give the right treatment.

Types of Ataxia in Dogs

There are three kinds of ataxia in dogs: proprioceptive, cerebellar, and vestibular. Each has its own signs:

  • Proprioceptive ataxia happens after damage to the spinal cord or brainstem. Dogs struggle to know where their body parts are and may have trouble walking normally, so there’s a loss of coordination, and your dog’s back legs might continue to have a wide stance.
  • Cerebellar ataxia in dogs occurs when the brain’s cerebellum is damaged. Dogs might move oddly or have trouble keeping their balance.
  • Vestibular ataxia comes from damage to the inner ear or brainstem, affecting a dog’s balance. They might tilt their heads or have trouble standing up straight.

Symptoms of Ataxia in Dogs

No matter the kind of ataxia, most dogs will show at least one of these signs:

  • Walking strangely
  • Having trouble balancing
  • Standing wide
  • Tripping or stumbling
  • Feeling tired
  • Not eating much

Dogs with cerebellar ataxia may move strangely or shake when walking. If it’s proprioceptive ataxia, they might drag their legs or cross them. Dogs with vestibular ataxia might circle, fall over, or vomit. They might also move their eyes oddly or tilt their head.

What causes ataxia in dogs?

There are many reasons why dogs might have ataxia. Some aren’t too serious, but others can be really bad. Here are some reasons:

  • Infections that spread through the body, like the distemper virus
  • When discs in the spine start to wear out due to old age,
  • Infections or swelling in the brain, spine, or ears
  • Growths like tumors in the brain, spine, or ears
  • A problem in the inner and middle ear that’s not clear why it happens
  • Getting hit on the head
  • Not having enough thyroid hormones
  • Being born with issues like a small cerebellum or liver problems
  • Not getting the right nutrients
  • Having low blood sugar
  • Taking too much medicine or the wrong kind
  • Eating things that are poisonous, like rat poison or antifreeze

How do vets diagnose ataxia in dogs?

First, the vet will ask questions and check your pet’s body. If they’re wobbly, they might do some tests to find out why:

  • Otoscopic exam: If they suspect a problem with balance, they’ll check for swelling or infection in the ears by using a special tool to look inside.
  • Blood test: They’ll take a bit of blood to check for signs of sickness or toxins that could be causing the problem.
  • Complete neurological exam: The vet will carefully check how your pet moves, their posture, and how well their nerves and reflexes work. This helps them spot anything unusual.
  • Scans: To get a closer look at what’s going on inside, they might take pictures of the brain and balance system using machines like X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs. Sometimes pets need to sleep through these tests.
  • Cerebral spinal fluid analysis: In some cases, they might need to take a tiny bit of fluid from the spine to see if there’s any infection or swelling causing the problem. This test is a bit more involved and is usually done by a specialist.

Treatment Options for Ataxia

Treating ataxia means finding out what’s causing it and then managing it. Here are some ways vets might help:

  • Anti-inflammatories: These medicines, like prednisone, can help if there’s swelling causing the problem.
  • Antibiotics: If the cause is an infection, antibiotics like clindamycin can fight it off.
  • Antifungals: Sometimes, fungi can be the troublemakers. Medicines like itraconazole can get rid of them.
  • Pain relievers: Pets might need meds like gabapentin to help with any discomfort they’re feeling.
  • Taking it easy: Sometimes, pets need to chill out and not do too much exercise while they recover.
  • Getting physical: Physical therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination.

There are times when your dog needs to stay in the hospital for a bit so the vets can keep an eye on them and give them extra care. If there’s something pressing on the spine or a tumor causing the trouble, surgery might be needed. Sometimes, with rest and treatment, ataxia goes away. But for some pets, it’s something they’ll always have to manage because it can’t be fully fixed.

How to Recover and Manage Ataxia in Dogs

If the cause of ataxia can be fixed, like with treatment for an infection or inflammation, it might go away after some time, which could be a few weeks to a few months. The vet will want to check on the dog regularly to see if they’re getting better. But some kinds of ataxia, like if it’s because the dog was born with a problem, might never completely go away.

Dogs getting better from ataxia should have a comfy spot at home to relax, away from anything they could accidentally hurt themselves on, like stairs or sharp objects. They might need help with things like going outside to go to the bathroom or eating their meals. It’s super important for pet parents to follow what the vet says and give the dog any medicine just like they’re told.

Preventing Ataxia in Dogs

Sometimes, dogs get ataxia because of medical issues that can’t be stopped. To help catch problems early, pet parents should make sure their dogs see the vet regularly and keep up with checkups. Ataxia from toxins or taking too much medicine can be avoided by keeping dangerous stuff away from dogs and only giving them medicine the vet says they need.

Get Medical Intervention if You Suspect Your Dog Has Ataxia

If you see signs of ataxia in your dog, like wobbliness or trouble balancing, don’t wait, take them to the vet right away. Knowing what’s causing the problem is the first step to helping them get better. Keep an eye on them at home and follow the vet’s advice closely. And remember, regular checkups and keeping dangerous things away from your furry friend can help prevent ataxia in the first place. Your pup relies on you for their health, so stay vigilant and keep them safe.


  • Diane Silva

    Diane is a travel enthusiast, content creator, and master storyteller, capturing her adventures through captivating blogs and engaging vlogs. With a passion for the great outdoors and a love for literature, she brings a unique perspective to the travel world. Whether she's exploring hidden gems or discussing the latest trends, Diane is your go-to source for all things travel and beyond.