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Have you seen your dog moving in a way that seems like he is drunk or just gotten off a merry-go-round? Does it seem as if he is about to fall? It must have made you panic to the core. Right? Before we get into the root cause, let us briefly know what the terms wobbly and flinching mean.
When your dog is wobbling, that means his movements lack coordination. He may even make swaying, staggering, or drifting movements. In the case of flinching, it involves a quick movement of the body and face, which indicates signs of nervousness and pain.
There are umpteen reasons why your dog may be wobbling and flinching. Let us look at them and know what steps to take.
6 Possible Causes for Wobbliness in Dogs
When your dog shows uncoordinated movements, you should never take it as just one of his playful antics. Talk to the vet at once to know what the reason for his behavior could be.
The quicker you seek medical help, the sooner you can arrive at a resolution.
Uncoordinated movements of the nervous system mark ataxia in dogs. When your dog has an abnormal gait, his legs, torso, or head are affected. Sometimes, the effect could be felt on all three of them together.
Ataxia has several forms, varying according to the part of the nervous system where the abnormality occurred. When the damage has taken place in the cerebellum, it results in cerebellar ataxia. The symptoms of cerebellar ataxia include:
- Shaking and swaying movements
- Staggering and walking in an unusual manner
- Falling or stumbling when walking
- Making unusual movements of the eye from side-side, up-down
Your dog may also have vestibular ataxia if the brainstem or inner ear has been affected. The symptoms include:
- Tilting of head
- Excessive drooling
- Walking in a drunken manner
- Making rapid and involuntary movements of the eye
- Pacing in circles
- Stumbling during walking
The spinal cord is mainly affected by the third type of ataxia-proprioceptive ataxia. The related symptoms include:
- Weakness in limbs
- Unsteady movement, mostly swaying and wobbling
- Abnormal positions of limbs when standing
- Less or no movement of the affected limbs
2. Ear Infection
Ear infections are one of the reasons for dogs to make wobbling movements because of the loss of balance. To identify that the unstable gait in your dog is due to ear infections, you would have to keep a watch on other symptoms.
These include increased head shaking, scratching, and pawing of ears, and moving in circles. If the ear infection is the reason, your canine’s ears will be inflamed, red, and swollen and may emit a smelly odor.
3. Brain Tumor
Any dog can suffer from a brain tumor, which is more common in canines above five. Some breeds are more susceptible to brain tumors than others. These include Pug, Boxer, Shih Tzu, Boston Terrier, Mastiff, Pekingese, etc.
Dogs could lose their balance and appear wobbly if they have a brain tumor. The symptoms depend on the tumor’s location. The common signs include seizures, loss of appetite, uncoordinated movements, head tremors, pacing, etc.
If your dog has had an injury in his head or inner ear because of any accident or trauma, he may lose his balance and appear wobbly. Besides balance issues, your dog will pant heavily, have enlarged pupils, show an alteration in appetite, and even want to lie down most of the time.
In such cases, a vet’s consultation is the need of the hour. The slightest delay could be life-threatening for your dog.
Your dog will have a stroke because of insufficient blood supply to the brain. It can happen in any dog, though breeds like Greyhounds and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are more susceptible.
If your dog has had a stroke attack, he will show wobbly movements, tilt his head to a side, move in circles, and make abnormal eye movements.
If your dog suffers from encephalitis, he will have a fever and seizures. His movements will appear wobbly and uncoordinated, mostly pacing in circles.
His head will tilt to any side, and he may even experience facial paralysis. With the progression of the disease, your dog may fall unconscious quite often.
7 Reasons Behind Flinching in Dogs
Flinching could occur naturally in dogs when dreaming. However, if your dog flinches in his waking hours, it could also mean he is stressed and nervous.
The reason could be something serious also. You will have to address it at once and seek medical help.
When your dog is asleep and has entered the world of dreams, it is natural to see him flinching. He is excited or anxious. Perhaps he is chasing a squirrel, or an enemy has attacked him. All of these add to his excitement, making him flinch.
He will even emit soft growls, whines, or purrs when asleep. Don’t be surprised to see your dog making unusual movements, like moving his legs, as though he was kicking someone.
2. Vestibular Disease
When your dog has vestibular problems, as mentioned above, he will show uncoordinated movements. At the same time, your dog will also flinch and withdraw from everything, be it any object or even their human friends. Because of their disoriented state, they are unaware of their surroundings, and hence the reaction.
3. Poor Eyesight
Poor eyesight is more common in older dogs than their younger counterparts. With old age, your dog could develop vision problems. Because of this, he may flinch away from objects he cannot see clearly. He will even flinch when something is getting near to them. This is more likely when your dog has progressive retinal atrophy or cataracts.
4. Traumatic Experiences of the Past
If you’ve bought a dog from a rescue or shelter home, it might flinch away from you and others in your household, too. The flinching is likely to be because of the unpleasant experiences he faced in his previous shelter.
He has not yet been able to do away with his traumatic past. This will go away eventually once you create pleasant experiences for him in his new home and he starts trusting you.
5. Nervousness and Fear
Dogs have two distinct fear periods. The first one is seen in puppies around 8-11 weeks old. During this time, they must leave their mother’s comfortable shelter and move on to their new homes. This creates insecurities and triggers fear and anxiety.
The second fear period comes at 6 to 14 months when dogs have entered adolescence. They try adapting to their surroundings, which often creates stressful situations. The fear stages do not last for more than 2-3 weeks. During these phases, flinching behavior is quite common in dogs.
When your dog is experiencing nausea and discomfort, there are chances that he will flinch, especially if you touch his abdomen. Besides flinching, your dog will also show other signs if he has nausea. These include restlessness, panting, increased drooling, shaking or trembling, retching, licking his lips, etc.
Dogs cannot express pain as we do. They have their way of letting us know that they are in pain and discomfort. They will vocalize through growls, barks, and whines. Your dog will also display flinching behavior. If he has a toothache, you will notice your dog flinch away when you try to touch his head or mouth.
Other signs to identify that your dog has toothache include increased drooling, slow chewing, bad breath, reduced appetite, etc. If arthritis is the cause of your dog’s pain, he will flinch while moving or when you touch his legs.
Common Scenarios where Wobbliness and Flinching Might Occur Simultaneously
Your dog could display wobbliness and flinching behavior simultaneously, mostly when he is experiencing any neurological disorder. For instance, if your dog has a vestibular condition like ataxia, he will show uncoordinated movements and flinch away from objects or people. He will do this because he is disoriented and unaware of what is happening around him.
The same might happen when your dog is about to get a stroke attack. You will notice wobbly movements and an expression of stress and nervousness on his face and body.
3 Steps to take Immediately
Wobbliness, in dogs, is more serious than flinching. If you see sudden, uncoordinated movements in your dog, it is essential to address it immediately. Early intervention could save your dog from serious health hazards. Here are a few steps that you must take:
1. Contact the Vet
When you see your dog making wobbly, uncoordinated movements, seeking medical help at once is essential. When you contact the vet, clearly explain how long your dog has appeared wobbly.
Also, let him know if your canine displays any other symptoms like stumbling, shaking his head, drooling, panting, etc. The more details you provide the vet regarding your dog, the better it will be for him to assess the issue accurately and arrive at a solution.
2. Calm your Dog
It is quite natural as a pet parent to panic when you see your dog behaving in a way he shouldn’t. Yet, you should have patience and calm your dog, too. If he is losing balance, he shouldn’t move around, as in that way, he could cause self-injury.
Shift him to a quieter environment and make him sit or lie down. You could also take him to his crate if he has one. He will feel comfortable there. Try to comfort him as much as you can to help him deal with the pain and uneasiness that he is going through.
3. Keep a Close Watch on Him
After contacting the vet and planning for the next course of action, supervise your dog. Even if you have shifted him to a different room, ensure there is someone to watch him.
If your dog is flinching, you must identify if it is behavioral or due to any health problem. For example, if your dog flinches in his sleep, it means he is dreaming. But, he could even flinch while asleep if he is having an episode of seizure.
There’s a way to distinguish. If your dog dreams, he will wake up to his name being called. In the case of a seizure attack, calling his name won’t wake your dog up.
When to Seek Veterinary Help
You will have to seek veterinary help in case of the following situations:
- When your dog is making uncoordinated movements
- If he is staggering or stumbling while walking
- If he appears as if he is drunk
- If your canine is panting and drooling excessively
- In case your dog has difficulty walking or getting up
- If he shakes his head a lot and has red, inflamed ears alongside smelly discharge
- If your dog is pacing in circles and making abnormal eye movements
The bottom line is that whenever your dog has a wobbly, unsteady movement and shows other signs of discomfort, you should not delay in seeking veterinary advice.
Diagnosis and Treatment
When you take your dog to the vet because of uncoordinated and wobbly movements, the vet will examine him physically. He will even advise bloodwork and diagnostic tests like X-rays and MRI scans. Your vet may even ask you to seek a veterinary neurologist’s consultation if needed.
If your vet suspects your dog has a stroke, he will advise for bloodwork and coagulation tests. An MRI is the best and most effective way to diagnose a stroke.
To diagnose an ear infection, the vet will examine your dog’s ears and take his ear canal swab for microscopic examination. It will help the vet determine if your dog has a bacterial or yeast infection or ear mites.
Similarly, for flinching, your vet will diagnose through physical examination, bloodwork, and other diagnostic tests and treat accordingly.
The treatment also depends on your dog’s condition and severity. For example, if your dog has been diagnosed with ataxia, the treatment depends on the underlying condition that has triggered the same.
Suppose your dog lacks nutrients like potassium, Vitamin B, or calcium. In that case, nutritional supplements may help to overcome the condition. If your dog suffers from severe infections or has ingested toxins, he might have to be hospitalized and put under intensive care. Ataxia caused by cancer or a tumor requires radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery.
If your dog is flinching away from you suddenly, it could be he is stressed or anxious. It could be the banging sound of the thunderstorm or fireworks. It has made your dog nervous, compelling him to react that way.
It could even be discomfort due to a stomach bug, dental conditions, ear infections, or other serious conditions.
If your dog suddenly displays wobbling movement and lethargy behavior, it could be due to underlying health issues. It requires urgent medical intervention. You should also check for other signs in your dog, like a stumbling gait, increased drooling, head shaking, etc.
To sum up, wobbling movements in dogs are mostly a red flag and need immediate medical intervention. Flinching could be either due to any physical discomfort or because of any behavioral issue.
Dogs who aren’t adequately socialized are more susceptible to nervousness and anxiety, especially when put in a surrounding that isn’t their comfort zone. The onus is on you to find out why your dog’s wobbling or flinching and resolve it as soon as possible.
Dr. Lillian is a D.V.M. passionate about promoting awareness of dogs. She shares her expertise through her blogs on canineweekly.com and provides animal care services, including internal medicine, dermatology, and emergency care. Dr. Lillian is committed to contributing to animal welfare.