If your puppy is staggering or walking in an odd manner, most likely it's not the result of going on a drinking spree at the latest puppy party. Rather, a wobbly and unstable gait can be a symptom of a serious medical problem possibly requiring immediate veterinary attention.
If your puppy is wobbly, then you may suspect a case of Wobbler's syndrome, a medical condition affecting the vertebrae of your puppy's neck. Basically, the vertebrae in this case do not connect properly, causing pressure on the spinal cord and altering your puppy's gait. Dobermans, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Irish setters, Dalmatians and German shepherds are some commonly affected breeds according to the VetInfo website. Puppies as young as 10 months of age may be affected, but most dogs diagnosed with this condition are between the ages of 3 years and 9 years old.
Hypoglycemia tends to primarily affect toy breeds between 6 and 12 weeks of age. A staggering gait, listlessness, muscular weakness and tremors are common symptoms of this condition. If your puppy is stressed, has overexerted himself, has skipped a meal, has developed upset stomach or has become cold, his blood sugar levels may drop, causing a bout of hypoglycemia. Should your puppy be prone to this problem, you may want to always keep corn syrup, honey or sugar water handy to get those sugar levels back up and make your pup feel better.
Generally, the first signs of the orthopedic problem called hip dysplasia appears in puppies between 5 months to 8 months of age. You may notice a wobbly gait especially affecting the back limbs, causing a typical "bunny hop" when your puppy runs. A puppy with dysplasia may have trouble climbing stairs and difficulty rising after lying down. The front legs may appear well-muscled while the rear legs may lack proper muscular development. Akitas, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Rottweilers and Newfoundlands are some breeds commonly affected.
If your puppy has a "Hoover" reputation and tends to lick, eat and swallow anything, his unstable gait may be due to the ingestion of toxins. Other signs of poisoning would also likely include vomiting, diarrhea, salivating, abdominal pain, hyper excitability, convulsions and weakness, according to Jennifer Gyles, a veterinarian specializing in emergency care. Common ingested toxins include dark chocolate, raisins, antifreeze, rodent poison, slug baits, medications and more.
Nervous System Diseases
Should your puppy develop an unsteady gait along with twitching, loss of motor skills, weakness, or partial or complete paralysis, there may be an underlying neurological issue at play. Nervous system symptoms may be due to a variety of causes such as congenital disorders, seizures and infections. Because the cause of an unsteady gait may be any of several conditions -- some of which can be very serious -- it is best to seek the immediate attention of a veterinarian should your puppy develop a staggering gait.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.