My dog's collapsed, what could be wrong?

Acute collapse in dogs is a sudden loss of strength, that causes them to fall and be unable to rise. It’s similar to a person fainting or passing out and may begin with weakness, staggering, disorientation or vomiting or diarrhoea.

Your dog may fall to the ground either into a sitting position (hind limb collapse) or a lying position (complete collapse). Some dogs who collapse will also lose consciousness. This is called fainting or syncope and can be serious. Dogs who remain conscious after collapsing may express confusion or anxiety, or have a “glassy-eyed” appearance.

In some cases, collapsed dogs will recover quickly and regain their mobility, and even appear normal, within seconds or minutes. In others, they will remain in a collapsed state until helped. It can, in the most severe cases, take hours for a dog to return to their feet after collapsing.

What to do if your dog collapses?

If your dog’s collapse lasts for several minutes or more, or if they fall unconscious, you should take them straight to your local vet or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or 24/7 hospital. If you’re worried you don’t have time for this seek advice over the phone.

Your vet will ask you what, if anything, brought on your dog’s collapse and how long they were motionless. Be careful when transporting a collapsed dog as they may become disoriented, confused, or aggressive during the collapse and during recovery. Try not to confuse collapsing with a seizure.

Old dog laying on the floor for Vets Now article on fainting or dog collapsed
It can, in the most severe cases, take hours for a dog to return to their feet after collapsing

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What causes a dog to collapse?

Collapse can be caused by various incidents and conditions such as electric shock to endocrine diseases such as Addison’s or diabetes. Severe reactions to insect bites, stings and drugs may also result in your dog collapsing. Other examples of illnesses that may cause your dog to collapse include poisoning, respiratory disease, heart disease, blood disease, and an overdose of drugs such as insulin. Warning signs can, however, be very subtle.

Bear in mind there is a difference between a dog suffering seizures or fits and collapsing. Seizures are typically caused by conditions such as epilepsy while acute collapse is usually the result of a disorder of one of the following:

  • Nervous system (brain, spinal cord, nerves)
  • Musculoskeletal system (bones, joints, muscles)
  • Circulation (heart, blood vessels, blood)
  • Respiratory system (mouth, nose, throat, lungs)

Treatment for acute collapse in dogs

Dogs who are taken to the vets after collapsing will undergo a thorough examination and a series of diagnostics tests to try to determine the underlying causes. Your vet may also take X-rays, do an ultrasound and carry out a CT or MRI scan. Your dog may also be given intravenous fluids and prescribed medication.

In some cases, collapse may be completely benign and require no treatment while dogs who collapse from an electric shock or insect bite may appear to recover straight away but then suffer a delayed reaction. It’s worth noting that diagnosing what’s causing your dog to have short or infrequent episodes of collapse can be challenging. This may require more in-depth investigations from a referral clinician or specialist.

Why does my older dog keep collapsing?

If your elderly dog is collapsing repeatedly, the likelihood is it’s down to an age-related condition such as diabetes or heart disease. You should seek advice from your daytime vet about the potential causes and solutions.