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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.

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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
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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.

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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
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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.

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Pacing and Circling Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Chihuahua

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6months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Spinning In Circles Counter Clockwise,

I can tell something is wrong with her and i dont know what to do

Jan. 11, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question, I'm sorry your puppy is not feeling well. Chihuahuas can have problems where they build up fluid on their brain, and she may have a neurological problem that needs attention. It would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian, as they can assess her health, and let you know what sort of treatment she may need.

Jan. 11, 2021

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Mutt

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Circling, Anxiety

Fast, clockwise circling has been present in my boyfriend’s pup since he got her (about 2 years ago). She does this when she appears anxious (e.g. leaving the house; anytime we aren’t sitting or laying down), and when she appears excited (e.g. going outside, playing with toys, other dogs, and people). When we leave the house, we now have to keep her in the basement to prevent her from chewing on furniture or rolling on her own feces or urine in a kennel. She was on a anti anxiety med at one point but did not seek to help and gave her terrible diarrhea.

Dec. 31, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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Hello anxiety can be very hard to deal with some days. There are many different medication and supplements you can try. I like calming bites. If this continues try looking for a trainer to help.

Jan. 1, 2021

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Husky

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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7 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Circling

My dog don't stop circling and not eating what can I do

Nov. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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7 Recommendations

I'm sorry to hear this. Circling can have many causes including a toxicity, ear infection, brain lesion etc. Not eating can quickly result in low blood sugar and dehydration. You need to go to the vet ASAP for an assessment.

Nov. 28, 2020

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Au

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5 years

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Serious severity

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2 found helpful

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Serious severity

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Circling, Fearful, Loss Of Appetite, And Won'T Lie Down Alone

My Aussie began to lay down all day long and not move from the base of the stairs. Later in the evening he's gotten up continuously circles and bobs his head. He responds to sight and sounds. He looks so afraid in the brief moments he stops spinning. There's also an odor coming from his ears. I hope it's just an ear infection.

Oct. 21, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It is certainly possible that his ears are bothering him, and that can be quite painful for dogs. If left too long, the infection can spread from the outer ear to the inner ear, and getting treatment is necessary, as specific medications are needed to treat these infections. It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 21, 2020

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English bull terrier

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6 weeks

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Walking In Circles And Crying

got bit by the father was bleeding from nose and mouth

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment if needed.

Oct. 14, 2020

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Harley

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French Bulldog

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14 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Circling

My 14 month old male (not nautered) French Bulldog has random odd behaviour which concerns me. About 3 months ago my husband tapped him on that bum playing he then started circling his legs and nipped him as he jumped up. Not aggressively meaning a ‘bite’ he then did the same to my 17 old son straight afterwards. I’ve told the family not to touch his behind. He has never done this to me until today. I took him to the field then he had a bath, when putting out the washing he started circling me low and fast and went to nip me. I shouted at home smacked him and told him off. I then calmed him down by talking calmly to him and gently stroking him. His body was stiff and ears back. This has now passed and don’t expect this until another 4 months. Really weird. It’s not a playful behaviour as I can feel it. It reminds me of stalking a prey. We have had him for 4 months before that he belonged to another member of our family with young children, who had him since a puppy. Nothing strange to report when I got him but again I don’t know what family life he had before ours. I’m thinking it’s because he needs neutering.

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Shelby

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Jack Russell Terrier

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9 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Pacing Fast And Panting Non Stoo

I have a nine yet old female jack Russell- she has been pacing really fast from room to room for the past hour. She has done this before and finally stopped after 2 hours . She is also panting. It’s 3:00 am or I would try walking her. Not sure how long this can go own.

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Meatball

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Jack Russell Terrier

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13 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Pacing

My 13 yr old Male has been pacing in a circle, breathing heavy, eating less or of at all, head and tail down, and stares off at things. His sister is in heat and he always acts strange when she is, but this time he is far worse. Dont know if it is his response to her or he has his own issue happening at the same time as her heat. He has had a stroke in 2017 but recovered fine, and when we recently moved jumped from the couch to the floor (hard wood floor) and landed on his chest. Right now we are thinking the worst since his sister is almost out of heat and he still seems the same. Usually when we take him outside and go for walks anywhere where he cant smell her as bad his tail perks up, he walks fine and tries to run, and he seems better but still breathes a little heavy. Anyone ever have a make dog act like this? Or had a make Jack Russell that has had a stroke?

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bella

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dasherhound

dog-age-icon

3 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

None

my dog bella she is 3 years old she constantly circle around the yard,for hours,she my lay down a few minute,and she will be back at it,i like to know what can i do to stop this some have told me to get her spaded that would probable help.

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Ollie

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Shetland Sheepdog

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9 Months

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Hi, my 9 month old Sheltie recently started sleeping in the same room as my Husband and me. This one night he kept pacing throughout the night and even peed on the floor despite knowing he should not do this. Do you know what’s wrong? Is it just an anxiety issue?

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