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Category: Dog Veterinary
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Why is my dog having balancing issues and acting sick?

Customer Question

My dog is acting very strange as if she is drunk and really tired. She is kind of acting like if a human had the flu and having balancing issues. A few weeks ago, we got a puppy and the vet thought this puppy had hypothermia or had been poisoned. Both of these dogs are guests to the house, and we have two other dogs that never got sick. What could be causing this, and what should I do?

Submitted: 8 years ago.
Category: Dog Veterinary
Expert:  TorontoVet replied 8 years ago.

The episodes you are describing in the puppy sound like hypoglycemia. That's when the blood sugar (glucose) is too low, and causes signs such as ataxia (wobbly gait), lethargy, and possibly seizures.
Feeding a puppy every 2-4 hours until at least 6 months of age (sometimes up to 1 year) will prevent juvenile hypoglycemia.
These symptoms can also occur in a young dog when they have a hepatic portosystemic shunt. Simply put, this is when there's a blood vessel that normally closes at birth but remains open. Therefore, blood from the digestive tract is re-routed to the circulation without going to the liver to be metabolized. In cases like this, the symptoms occur shortly after the puppy has eaten.
I might be misunderstanding: is your dog 8 years old, or 8 months old?
Is your dog spayed?
An adult dog that is showing signs of acting "drunk" and having "balance issues" may have an infection of the middle ear(s). And we know that Cockers are notorious for ear infections so this is a possibility.
Another strong possibility is intervertebral disc disease. This is when a disc (found between the backbones) causes compression of the spinal cord or spinal nerves, what we often call a "pinched nerve."

I assume the dog has not gotten into anything toxic, including recreational drugs. These can certainly cause the symptoms you are describing.
A thorough physical exam, including looking deep into the ears and possibly an x-ray of the ear bones called bullae, should be performed. A good exam of the spine should be done to see if there is any pain along it. If so, disc disease is possible. Blood tests should also be done to rule out anything obvious, like liver or kidney problems.
I would recommend a visit to the vet right away. If the dog is showing symptoms when you bring her in, I would recommend that he/she do a blood glucose in hospital. In adults, low blood glucose would be due to a tumor in the pancreas that is producing too much insulin. Don't worry about this as it's relatively rare.
Good luck with everything.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.

There are two dogs a puppy and 8 year old cocker spaniel. The puppy happened a few weeks ago. We live in Montana and our relatives were visiting with their dogs. It was 14 below zero. The puppy showed the exact same symptoms as the 8 year old cocker did tonight (visiting again). The vet thought hypothermia or poison. The vet reported that the puppy was in and out of consciousness and had a slowed heart rate-- he didn't expect the puppy to live through the night. The next morning the pup was fine.

Tonight the older dog of theirs started walking drunkenly and wobbly. As the evening progressed she laid down and was barely staying awake. When moved she was like a lifeless animal, but her eyes were open. It's been a couple hours since I first asked my question and she is slightly more alert-- I mean slightly, but that is improvement.

Our relatives think that our home might be the issue. We have two cockers as well, brother and sister, age 3 and they have NEVER shown signs like this. We also don't know of any drugs or chemicals they could have gotten into-- our dogs are curious dogs and would have found any trouble over the past three years.

I find it odd that the symptoms of these dogs look identical-- I mean I have never seen a dog lay lifeless but awake.

Expert:  TorontoVet replied 8 years ago.

I think this is odd.
This might be a long shot, but are they eating the same food? If so, perhaps the food is contaminated?

Are there recreational drugs in the house? Is there any marijuana in the house?
It really sounds like intoxication to me.

If the dog doesn't improve within an hour or two, OR starts to get worse, I would take her to the ER.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.

No recreational drugs in the house, it is 6 A.M. our time and the dog is fine again, it is just scaring us how fast this hits the dogs and then goes away. I really do thank you for your effort.

But thank you for helping, it sounds like this is not common which scares us even further.

Expert:  TorontoVet replied 8 years ago.

I think this might be a case where I would really need to examine the dog, especially when the dog is symptomatic. If the symptoms recur, I would strongly recommend that you bring the dog in, while she is exhibiting those symptoms. Of course, I am also hoping that the signs don't recur.
Again, blood tests might help now, they may not. Very importantly, her liver function should be checked. This is done by performing a bile acids assay.
The most important thing is that you feel satisfied. Best of luck.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.

When the puppy was ill and we took her to the vet blood test were performed and nothing was irregular (which is frustrating) I would rather have an answer of the ailment than the illness and no cause. Next time we will rush into the vet again, it was an expensive trip last time around $400 for an afterhours emergency. Thank you for attempting, our dogs are like family so this is frustrating.

Expert:  TorontoVet replied 8 years ago.

A bile acids assay is a specific liver function test. It is not done on routine blood tests so would likely not have been done. It usually requires a very short stay in the hospital (a few hours).
Best of luck.