Why Is My Dog Swaying Back and Forth?

As pet owners, we always want our pets to be healthy and happy, and seeing your dog sway back and forth or appear dizzy is very frightening.

Why is my dog swaying back and forth? Dogs sway back and forth when they are dizzy. Dizziness can indicate many issues, including problems with the inner ear, the brain, and the spine. While the most common cause of swaying is an ear infection, more severe issues could be at play.

Here is your complete guide to why your dog could be swaying back and forth. Get your pup on the proper treatment and back to balance as soon as possible.

Why Is My Dog Swaying Back and Forth?

Even if you aren’t sure, you should call your vet and let them help you through this scary situation. A medical professional who knows you and your dog will be able to give you more clarity.

Although we’ll go more in-depth in the rest of this article, here is a complete list of possible causes for a swaying dog:

  • Ear infection
  • Vestibular disease
  • Tick-borne illnesses
  • Trauma
  • Tumors
  • Strokes
  • Spine issues
  • Old age
  • They ate something they shouldn’t have

Many of these issues are serious and should receive immediate medical attention. There are three main categories: ear, brain, and spine injuries.

Ear Issues

An inner ear imbalance is the most common reason a dog suddenly loses balance or sways back and forth.

Ear Infection

If you’ve ever had an ear infection, you know how it feels – you are constantly dizzy, and it’s tough to walk in a straight line.[KM1] 

Dogs struggle with ear infections just like humans, but they present differently. If your dog is wobbly, their eyes are shifting side to side, and their head tilts towards one side, it’s likely an ear infection (hint: it’s the ear they’re leaning toward). Your veterinarian can treat your dog’s ear infection with medications.

Vestibular Disease

However, there are more inner severe ear issues that could be affecting your pup’s balance. The vestibular disease also affects the inner ear and has similar symptoms. It can also manifest as walking in circles or excessive drooling and is more common in older dogs. There are several types of vestibular disease, and some are more serious than others.

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Either way, if your dog starts wobbling and drooling, walking in circles, or has a continual head tilt, you should probably call your vet. The sooner inner ear damage is diagnosed and treated, the better it will be for you and your pup!

Brain Issues

If it’s not your dog’s inner ear causing them to sway, it’s likely something in their brain. Now before you panic, not all brain issues are severe or life-threatening. Some fevers and other problems will go away with treatment. Here are some of the brain-stem-related matters to watch for.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Certain tick-borne illnesses, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, can temporarily loosen a dog’s control over its legs and balance. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is easy to treat, but you should call your vet about it sooner rather than later. The longer it goes, the higher the risk for long-term issues or death.


Former trauma can cause brain injury. If you adopted a shelter dog and don’t know where it came from, your pup may have some traumatic brain injury. It could cause issues with balance, eye movement, and cognitive functions in a dog.


Tumors are another reason that dogs start to lose balance. They sit in the skull and push against the brain, causing certain parts not to work as they should. Although tumors are severe and always frightening, they are treatable if caught early enough.


One of the rarest situations for your dog to be in is to be suffering a stroke. However, it does happen occasionally, so look out for excessive drooping of one side of the face or body and head tilting to one side. When paired with dizziness and falling, this could indicate a canine stroke.

Of course, if your dog is swaying back and forth, it could be any of these things. You can look for specific symptoms to see if it’s brain-related, such as extra high steps, wide-spread rear legs, and body tremors.

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Spine Issues

Another reason dogs begin to wobble is their spine. These problems are less common than ear infections or diseases but can happen. A damaged or misaligned spine that doesn’t send or receive the proper signals from the rest of the body is known as Spinal ataxia.

If your pup didn’t show any signs of ear or brain issues, there’s a simple test you can perform to see if it’s a spinal issue. When your dog stands, take their paw and flip it, so the top of the foot is on the ground. This is known as knuckling; a dog that doesn’t quickly correct its paw position has signaling problems.

Spinal issues are the least common of the three types of ataxia but can be challenging to spot. As always, talk to a medical professional about care and treatment for your dog.

Other Issues: Age and Appetite

Other than brain, spine, and ear issues, there are two possible causes for your dog swaying back and forth.


The first is age. If you have an older dog, its body is beginning to wear out over time. Although it’s worth checking out with your vet, it might just be their tired legs— like how our grandparents get unsteady on their feet.


Sometimes a swaying, dizzy dog is a sign of deeper issues that need addressing. Other times, your dog got into something he shouldn’t have and felt the effects. It is always possible that your dog ate something it shouldn’t and isn’t feeling well. It might still be wise to go to the vet to see if they need their stomach pumped.

Final Thoughts

Although many of these issues could be the case for your swaying dog, you won’t know for sure until you have a medical professional examine them. Take your pup to the vet as soon as possible for proper treatment and peace of mind.

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Nadine Oraby

My name is Nadine; I am a passionate writer and a pet lover. People usually call me by the nickname “Joy” because they think that I am a positive and joyful person who is a child at heart. My love for animals triggered me to create this blog. Articles are written by vets, pet experts, and me. Thanks for visiting. Your friend, Nadine!

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