Dog Walking in Circles

icon June 13, 2024

Understanding why dogs walk in circles is essential for pet owners to ensure their furry companions receive the care they need. This article delves into the reasons behind dogs walking in circles, explores why this might happen more frequently towards the end of a dog's life, and examines whether this behavior is linked to dog dementia.

Why Is My Dog Walking in Circles?

♦ Normal Behavior

Before jumping to conclusions, it's important to recognize that walking in circles can sometimes be a part of normal dog behavior. Dogs might walk in circles for a variety of innocuous reasons:

1. Preparation for Rest:
Many dogs circle before lying down. This behavior is believed to be an instinctual action inherited from wild ancestors who would trample grass to create a comfortable sleeping area and check for potential threats.

2. Excitement or Play:
Some dogs circle out of excitement or playfulness. For instance, when you come home, your dog might run in circles as a way to express joy.

3. Habitual Behavior:
Dogs, like humans, can develop habits. If a dog has developed a habit of circling, they might do so out of routine rather than any underlying issue.

♦ Medical and Psychological Causes

However, if your dog starts circling excessively or out of the blue, it could indicate a medical or psychological issue. Here are some potential causes:

1. Ear Infections:
Inner ear infections can affect a dog’s balance, causing them to walk in circles. If your dog is tilting their head, shaking it frequently, or showing signs of discomfort, an ear infection might be the cause.

2. Neurological Issues:
Conditions such as vestibular disease, which affects the inner ear and balance, can lead to circling. Other neurological disorders, including brain tumors or encephalitis, can also cause this behavior.

3. Pain or Discomfort:
If a dog is in pain or discomfort, especially in their abdomen or hind legs, they might circle in an attempt to alleviate the pain or because they cannot get comfortable.

4. Stress and Anxiety:
Psychological factors, such as stress, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), can lead to circling behaviors. Dogs might circle when they are anxious or under stress, similar to how humans might pace.

Why Do Dogs Circle Before They Lay Down?

Dogs circle before laying down as an instinctual behavior inherited from their wild ancestors. This action helps trample grass, making a comfortable, safe spot for resting and checking for potential threats in the environment.

Why Do Dogs Walk in Circles Before They Die?

One of the more distressing contexts in which dogs might walk in circles is towards the end of their lives. But dog walking in circles is not considered to be  This behavior can be particularly heart-wrenching for pet owners. There are a few reasons why dogs might circle before they die:

1. Disorientation:
As dogs age, they might become disoriented due to various health issues, including cognitive decline, poor vision, or hearing loss. This disorientation can manifest as circling.

2. Pain and Discomfort:
Terminal illnesses, such as cancer or severe organ failure, can cause significant pain and discomfort. Dogs might circle as they try to find a comfortable position or because they are unable to settle.

3. Neurological Decline:
End-of-life stages can involve neurological decline. Conditions like canine cognitive dysfunction (dog dementia) can lead to behaviors such as circling. In some cases, brain tumors or other neurological issues might be at play.

4. Instinctual Behavior:
In some cases, dogs might exhibit instinctual behaviors at the end of their lives, such as seeking a place to hide or lying down. Circling could be a part of this instinctual preparation for the end.

Is Walking in Circles a Symptom of Dog Dementia?

Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCDS), often referred to as dog dementia, is a condition similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans. It primarily affects older dogs and can lead to a variety of behavioral changes, including walking in circles. Let's explore this in more detail.

What Is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome?

CCDS is a neurodegenerative disorder that leads to cognitive decline in dogs. It typically affects dogs over the age of 11, although it can occur in younger dogs as well. The exact cause of CCDS is unknown, but it is believed to be related to the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, similar to the plaques found in humans with Alzheimer's disease.

♦ Symptoms of CCDS

The symptoms of CCDS can vary but generally include:

1. Disorientation:
Dogs may appear confused, get lost in familiar places, or have difficulty finding their way around.

2. Altered Interactions:
Changes in how a dog interacts with family members or other pets, such as decreased interest in social interactions or increased irritability.

3. Sleep-Wake Cycle Disturbances:
Dogs with CCDS often experience changes in their sleep patterns, such as waking up in the middle of the night and wandering.

4. House Soiling:
Previously house-trained dogs might start having accidents indoors.

5. Decreased Activity:
A reduction in playfulness and general activity levels.

6. Repetitive Behaviors:
This includes walking in circles, pacing, and other repetitive actions.

Why Does CCDS Cause Circling?

Walking in circles is a common symptom of CCDS due to several factors:

  • 1. Disorientation:
    Cognitive decline can cause confusion and disorientation, leading dogs to walk in circles as they struggle to navigate their environment.
  • 2. Anxiety and Restlessness:
    Dogs with CCDS may experience increased anxiety and restlessness, resulting in repetitive behaviors such as circling.
  • 3. Neurological Changes:
    The neurological changes associated with CCDS can affect a dog’s ability to control their movements, leading to circling and other abnormal behaviors.

Diagnosing and Treating Circling Behavior

If your dog is exhibiting circling behavior, it's crucial to seek veterinary advice to determine the underlying cause. Here’s how veterinarians typically approach the diagnosis and treatment:

Diagnostic Steps

  • 1. Physical Examination:
    A thorough physical exam to check for signs of pain, discomfort, or neurological issues.
  • 2. Blood Tests:
    Blood tests to check for infections, metabolic disorders, or other systemic conditions.
  • 3. Neurological Examination:
    A detailed neurological exam is to assess the dog's balance, reflexes, and other neurological functions.
  • 4. Imaging:
    Advanced imaging techniques such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans to check for brain tumors, structural abnormalities, or other internal issues.
  • 5. Behavioral Assessment:
    An assessment of the dog’s behavior to identify signs of anxiety, stress, or cognitive dysfunction.

Treatment Options

The treatment for circling behavior will depend on the underlying cause:

1. Medications:
Antibiotics for infections, anti-inflammatory drugs for pain, or medications to manage neurological conditions.

2. Behavioral Therapy:
For dogs with anxiety or OCD, behavioral therapy and environmental enrichment can help manage symptoms.

3. Diet and Supplements:
Special diets and supplements can support cognitive function in dogs with CCDS. For example, diets rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients can be beneficial.

4. Surgery:
In cases where a brain tumor or other structural issue is identified, surgery might be an option.

5. Supportive Care:
For terminally ill dogs, providing comfort and supportive care to manage pain and improve quality of life.

Managing a Dog with Circling Behavior

If your dog has been diagnosed with a condition that causes circling, there are several ways you can manage their behavior and improve their quality of life:

1. Create a Safe Environment:
Ensure your home is safe and accessible for your dog. Remove obstacles, use baby gates to block off dangerous areas, and provide non-slip mats.

2. Routine and Consistency:
Stick to a regular routine to help reduce anxiety and confusion. Consistent feeding, walking, and sleeping times can provide a sense of security.

3. Mental Stimulation:
Engage your dog in activities that stimulate their mind, such as puzzle toys, training exercises, and interactive games.

4. Comfort and Care:
Provide comfort through soft bedding, gentle handling, and a quiet, peaceful environment. For dogs with CCDS, maintaining a calm and familiar environment can help reduce anxiety.

5. Veterinary Support:
Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to monitor your dog’s condition and adjust treatment plans as needed.


Dogs walking in circles can be a perplexing and concerning behavior for pet owners. While it can sometimes be a benign and normal action, it can also indicate underlying medical or psychological issues. Understanding the potential causes, from ear infections and neurological conditions to pain and anxiety, is crucial for seeking appropriate veterinary care. By providing proper care, attention, and veterinary support, pet owners can help ensure their dogs live comfortable and fulfilling lives, even when facing health challenges.

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