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What is Pacing and Circling?

As previously stated, pacing and circling by your family pet can be quite normal - for certain reasons.  However, if your canine family member is pacing and circling and it isn’t for one of the normal “doggy” reasons, then the behavior could signal some deeper problem which could be serious for your family pet.  A trip to your veterinary professional is definitely something you should consider in the near future.

Pacing and circling in dogs can be activities in which dogs engage in for some normal activities like urinating, defecating, sniffing and investigating, or they can be compulsive behaviors which are not normal.

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Symptoms of Pacing and Circling in Dogs

The symptoms of potential canine compulsive behaviors are similar to those you’d find in a human suffering from obsessive compulsive disorders or even dementia.  Here are some things you might notice in your pet to some degree:

  • Your pet keeps circling in the same direction and can’t seem to change direction
  • Pupils of eyes are unequal in size 
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Aimless wandering
  • Changes in sleeping habits and behaviors
  • Changes in gait
  • Limping or reluctance to move
  • Changes in house training habits
  • Appetite changes - both increased as well as decreased
  • Other compulsive behaviors likes spinning, tail chasing, fly snapping, excessive licking, toy fixation, barking etc

Types 

There are various types of behaviors which could present in pacing and circling activities:

  • Environmental or external contributors
  • Systemic disease
  • Neurological or neoplastic disease

While, it may seem “cute” or “funny” when your dog does the tail chasing thing, or when they’re pacing or circling sometimes for hours on end, it is important to note that it may not be an intentional way to get your attention but instead could be a signal to a deeper, more serious problem which needs evaluated and treated, sooner rather than later.

Causes of Pacing and Circling in Dogs

Some pacing and circling are quite normal doggy behaviors and should not raise any alarms in pet parents.  It is, however, not true of those pacing and circling behaviors which are being done without the normal triggers and for those compulsive behaviors which are increasing and seem almost constant.  Here is a list of some of the things which could be at the root of these compulsive behaviors:

Anxiety or Anxiety Disorder 

  • This would include the fear generated by fireworks
  • Too-little room for your pet to move around
  • Lack of mental or physical stimulation / challenge
  • Pain from an injury or other condition
  • Past traumatic event which is being remembered
  • Canine compulsive disorder - similar to human obsessive compulsive disorder in which canine exhibits repetitive behavior

Liver Disease or Abnormality

  • Diseased or damaged liver could cause neurological issues resulting in pacing, circling, head pressing and behavioral changes 
  • Hepatitis and some parasitic infections can also cause neurological issues 
  • Liver shunt - happens when a blood vessel shunts blood around the liver instead of blood processing through the liver to clean out the toxins
  • Neurological damage occurs when the blood is shunted around the liver, allowing the toxins to build up in the bloodstream and kidneys

Cushing’s Disease 

  • This is a disease which mainly afflicts older dogs
  • Is due to an imbalance in the hormone cortisol
  • All three forms of disease are chronic and progress slowly

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

  • Dementia or Alzheimer's  with deposits in the brain similar to those found in humans

Brain Tumor

  • The pacing, circling and other repetitive behaviors are caused by neurologic changes from the pressure being exerted on the brain by the tumor as it grows

Ear Infections

  • Bacterial, fungal or parasitic

Diagnosis of Pacing and Circling in Dogs

As one might expect from the list of potential causes of pacing and circling in dogs, diagnosis is not easy nor will it likely be done with a quick blood test.  Your veterinary professional, or other attending veterinary professional, will need a complete history from you which includes dietary regimen, living and housing arrangements, exercise regimen which includes where that exercise takes place, any injuries or health conditions which have befallen your pet over his life and the details of the symptoms you’ve noticed along with their duration, noting whether they came on gradually or suddenly and their severity.  

Your vet will do a physical examination and will likely need to order blood testing, urine and fecal testing, radiography (x-rays), perhaps CT or MRI imaging to ascertain if there are any masses present which could be factors for the symptoms and clinical signs being displayed by your family pet.  Once the testing results from the various testing modalities being utilized by your vet are received and evaluated, an appropriate treatment plan will be developed and initiated for your canine family member.

Treatment of Pacing and Circling in Dogs

Of course, it goes without saying that the treatment options presented to you by your vet will be dependent upon the cause he has found for the pacing, circling and other compulsive behaviors of which your pet is suffering.  

  • If a systemic condition is found, treatments will include those options which are consistent with the disease condition found, for example oral medication administration, perhaps behavioral training, changes in your pet’s home environment to reduce stress and anxiety, medications to treat the infectious component, if any, or potential surgical options in the case of tumor growth being the causative affliction 
  • If your vet determines that the problems stems from dietary issues, then he will make recommendations for dietary changes to help remedy the problem
  • In the event that your vet finds everything in his testing of your family pet to be normal and diagnoses your pet with a behavioral issue only (which doesn’t have a systemic component) and if the behavior continues beyond a few days, he may refer you to an animal behaviorist for appropriate treatment

Recovery of Pacing and Circling in Dogs

The prognosis for your family pet who suffers from pacing and circling will be dependent upon the ultimate cause as determined by your veterinary professional.  For some of the causes, the treatments may be ongoing for the life of your pet, or they may be intermittent as the disease process waxes and wanes in its development.  For other causes, it may be that a simpler solution will fill the bill, like giving your canine family member more exercise, more play time or training which keeps his mind active and learning, or it might be simply changing his diet.  In any event, dispensing copious amounts of the three A’s: affection, affirmation, and attention will always be part of the treatment plan.

Pacing and Circling Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

raisin
French Bulldog
7 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Panting

my dog was diagnosed with encephalitis/auto immune related illness last Friday and has been on dexamethasone since then (5 1/2 days). her pacing has not increased but has remained consistent, unless she is coaxed into sitting down she is constantly on her feet going around the room in circles. our vet said the steroids should have helped with this. I'm beside myself with worry- should she have signs of improvement by now? with the first 48 hours of dexamethasone she was panting and very frantic, she's definately calmed down but is still so confused and out of it, pacing constantly.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1375 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I would think that almost 6 days later, Raisin would have started to show some improvement on the medications. Since she is not, it would be a good idea to have her re-checked by your veterinarian, as they can assess her for any new developments and change medications if needed . I hope that she is okay.

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Tasha
Alaskan Husky
14 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Does the Dementia medication Anipryl really work for most dogs?

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Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1375 Recommendations
Thank you for contacting us about Tasha. Anipryl does work quite well for some dogs for dementia, and not as well for others. It is a medication that needs to be given to see if there are positive effects with the brain aging changes.

My dog has been circling since likw 7am this morninga nd wont stop other than laying down for a few seconds then circling again . I dont think he can hear me either when i call his name im very worried is he going to live?

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Maverick
Corgi Basset
15 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Arthritis
Circling
Pacing

Medication Used

Colmicalm
Tremadoyl

Hello,

My dog was taken to the vet for a possible UTI. However, there were no signs of UTI. My Vet did find bladder cells. Long story short, x rays and sonogram showed only arthritis in his back and joints. Within a few days, he started showing signs of dementia. Just that quick. Now he just circles and paces. He can go for hours. My thought is he may have had a stroke. Dementia just doesn't happen like that. My Vet has him on clomicalm. My question is this...is there another drug I can give him to help him not go in circles? I literally have to put him in his bed to stop the circling and pacing. He's due to go back for followup next month.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2950 Recommendations
Circling may be attributable to numerous different conditions which may be secondary to other conditions; without examining Maverick I cannot determine a specific cause or offer any treatment. It would be best to confine Maverick’s movements for the time being to help keep him calm and to prevent him from falling over all the time. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Paco
Mini pin
3 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Circling

My dog keeps circling since 7 am and stops lays down for a few seconds and then starts circling again also he keeps looking around , and we are really worried is he going to die? also we call his name but gwt no reaction .

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1375 Recommendations
I'm not sure what might be happening with Paco, without being able to examine him, but it does sound like he is having a neurologic event of some type. It would be best to have him examined by a veterinarian to see what is going on, and how to treat him.

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