A dog walking sideways may be a concern for dog owners, especially when the dog starts walking this way out of the blue. There may be several underlying causes for a dog walking sideways and the best way to find the underlying cause is by seeing the vet. A recording of the episode can be extra helpful so that the vet is provided with a visual of the actual behavior rather than just a mere description. Complicated cases may require a referral to a neurologist. Following are some potential causes for a dog walking sideways along with pertinent information about diagnosis and treatment.
A Problem with the Ear
A dog walking sideways may be suffering from some problem with the ears. A dog's ears and his sense of balance are closely connected.
Balance, which helps the dog walk and run without falling, is controlled through special signals sent to the brain coming from the eyes, inner ear and other sensory systems of the body. The dog's inner ear, in particular, contains special “sensors” which are capable of detecting the rotational movement of the head.
Your dog's balance system is often referred to as the vestibular system and any issue affecting this system is known as a vestibular disorder.
Middle ear or inner ear infections can affect the dog's vestibular system, causing affected dogs to feel dizzy and nauseous, just as if they stepped off a merry-go-round. This may lead to a dog exhibiting a head tilt, circling and walking sideways from being dizzy, which leads to a dog who feels sick, nauseous and may refuse to eat.
This condition is known as vestibular disease, and while it can be caused by a middle ear infection, at times the cause remains unknown (idiopathic). Because this condition is often seen in older dogs, it is often referred to as geriatric vestibular disease or old dog vestibular disease.
An MRI or CT scan may be needed to diagnose this condition, but due to the costs associated with these procedures, many vets may opt to treat the dog symptomatically and see if the problem resolves. The vet may prescribeanti-nausea drugs, and if there is a middle-ear infection, a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. To treat the dizziness, the vet may suggest meclizine. Generally, dogs will get better within 1 to 2 weeks.
"Idiopathic vestibular syndrome. can occur in aging dogs and generally presents with stumbling, eye movement (called nystagmus- really look close for a eye twitch back and forth -- it can be subtle), head tilt and weakness. The good news is that most of these dogs recover within a couple weeks."~Dr. Jeff
Possible Undetected Pain
Dogs often do not express pain in the ways we expect them to. Walking sideways (also known as crabbing in dog lingo) may therefore be a dog's way of compensating for pain originating somewhere. For instance, a dog may walk sideways in the case of discomfort stemming from a strain, sprain, or bruise.
Other than walking sideways, pain in dogs may be shown through panting and fast breathing. Such pain may follow vigorous exercise, showing up about 12 hours later or the pain may arise as a result of turning or twisting something 'the wrong way.'
Perhaps the pain is localized to the dog's neck, affecting more precisely, the dog's cervical area, or the issue may stem from the spine, possibly due to disc herniation. X-rays, unless the condition is readily obvious, will not typically show signs of disc herniation neither in the neck or back. The dog will require an MRI, CT scan or myelogram for diagnosis.
Other sources of pain causing the dog to walk in an odd way may include the dog's knees, hips, spine, abdomen and sometimes even the dog's anal glands. In some cases, the dog's anal glands may become impacted causing them to become painful as they continue to fill up and expand. This pain may cause the dog to walk in an odd way.
If the vet suspects muscular pain, neck pain, or back pain, he or she may prescribe a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs along with rest and see whether the symptoms subside. For herniated discs, the vet may in addition prescribe other pain meds ( Gabapentin, Tramadol) and possibly, muscle relaxers. Severe cases may require surgical intervention.
Other Potential Causes
A dog walking crooked, in a sideways fashion may be suffering from a liver problem. In particular, small dogs are prone to a condition known as liver shunt. Bloodwork including a special test known as Bile Acids Test may help diagnose this condition.
If the episode of the dog walking crooked is temporary, there may be chances the episode was a seizure. When somebody thinks of dog seizures, the first idea that may come to mind is a dog lying dog and trashing with his feet in the air, but dog seizures may be much more subtle than this.
Partial seizures may cause abnormal brain activity and this can temporarily affect a dog's motion. While seizures are most common in young dogs, in older dogs systemic diseases or even tumors may be a culprit for the seizures and should therefore require investigation.
In an elderly dog, the possibility of a brain tumor needs to be considering as a potential cause for walking sideways. The definitive way to diagnose a brain tumor in a dog is through an MRI.
In small dogs there is potential for low blood glucose causing the sideways walking. In such a case, it may help to rub honey, karo syrup or pancake syrup onto the gums (making sure these products do not contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is highly toxic to dogs.)
A dog who runs sideways all the time and doesn't seem to be suffering or in any pain, may be walking in this fashion because of some structural issue. Thiscurious gait may be seen in dogs who have structural problems causing them to walk in a sideways fashion so to avoid their legs from touching.
Other potential causes for a dog walking sideways may include ingestion of harmful toxins, such as plants, drugs, pesticides or herbicides and other non-edible items, a stroke, or some type of vascular issue in the brain, side effects from certain medications and more.
As seen, there are several causes for a dog walking sideways. It's highly recommended therefore to see the vet so to have your dog correctly diagnosed so that he can receive the most appropriate treatment.