Seeing your dog acting strange or wobbly can be quite distressing. There are a number of things that may cause an appearance of drunkenness. In this article, we’re going to explore some of the most common of these. But most importantly, try to keep calm, avoid injury to yourself and your dog and call your vet. 

Seizures

These can range from muscle twitching and wobbliness to falling to the ground with the muscles spasming. This results in salivating, paddling of the legs and urinating or defecating. There is usually a pre-ictal phase (before the seizure) where the dog may seem nervous or anxious, often whining and trembling. The following seizure may last a few seconds to a few minutes. This is followed by a period of pacing, disorientation and restlessness, known as the post-ictal phase.

During the seizure episode, it is best to turn any lights off in the room and turn any music off, creating a calm environment. Furniture should be moved to prevent the dog from banging into anything and cushions or blankets can be used to prevent further injuries. Once the seizure has finished, you should call your vet. They will then carry out an examination and perform investigations such as a blood sample, urine sample and imaging to help determine if there was a cause of the seizure.

Read more: How do I know if my dog is having a seizure?

Fainting or collapsing

This looks different to a seizure as the dog is usually still. Sometimes the gums will be a pale colour, rather than pink. The dog may appear wobbly and then fall to one side. It may happen during exercise, especially if the dog has been struggling to breathe.

There are a number of things that could cause collapsing and fainting, and it is important that your dog is examined by a vet. Your vet will perform a thorough examination, paying particular attention to the heart and may take blood samples as well as performing x-rays or an ultrasound exam. 

Vestibular Disease

Although vestibular disease can be caused by trauma, ear infections and tumours, an “idiopathic” form where the cause isn’t fully understood often occurs in older dogs. The dog will usually be very wobbly, sometimes falling and completely rolling over, unable to stand back up again. The dog probably feels very dizzy and you may notice that the head is held to one side with the eyes moving from side to side or up and down.

Your vet will perform a neurological exam and look inside the ears to try and find a cause for the signs. In idiopathic cases, the dog usually improves over the course of a few days to a fortnight. Some dogs will always be a bit wobbly, with a slight head tilt.

Heatstroke

Dogs can’t cool themselves through sweating like humans do, so if they become too hot and panting isn’t helping, they will overheat. Overheating can happen if a dog is exercised in hot weather, especially if they already have trouble breathing, such as in the “flat-faced” (brachycephalic) breeds. The signs of heatstroke include wobbliness, red gums, excessive panting and collapsing. This condition is preventable and during hot weather it is important to make sure you think carefully about whether your dog will be able to cope. 

Measures to prevent heatstroke include:

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  • Only walking your dog in the morning or the evening when it is cooler
  • Ensuring that you always have cool water available for your dog to drink
  • Providing shaded areas for your dog when outside
  • Using cooling mats or coats
  • Avoiding leaving your dog inside the car during hot weather 

If you have a brachycephalic breed you will need to take extra care during the summer. Having an assessment carried out by a vet is essential for brachycephalic breeds. They often need surgery to help them to breathe more easily, preventing collapsing episodes. Read more: What is BOAS surgery, and why is it needed?

If you notice any signs of heatstroke, your dog should be taken to the vet immediately, where intravenous fluid therapy and cooling procedures will be carried out.

Spinal disease

Problems with the spine can cause weakness and wobbliness, known as ataxia. A “slipped disc” can occur in any dog but is often seen in dachshunds due to their long backs. The dog should be taken to the vet for an examination, where a neurological assessment will be carried out and further imaging may be required to identify where and what the cause of the ataxia is. It is important to be careful when moving the dog, not allowing them to jump into the car or go up and down steps, if the dog is small then carrying them carefully will help to support their back.

Toxins

Toxic substances such as antifreeze, slug pellets and mould from food waste can cause a dog to be wobbly. Often resulting in collapsing or seizures. If you think that your dog has had access to any toxic substances then you should call the vet, sometimes the dog will need to have an injection to make them sick so that they will bring up the toxin.

However, if the dog is already showing abnormal signs, further treatment will be required to help the body to eliminate the toxin and prevent other signs from developing. In some cases, toxin ingestion can be fatal so rapid veterinary attention is essential.

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