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What is Pacing?

When you notice your dog pacing, stop and watch them to see if they are exhibiting other symptoms that could point to an underlying cause that may require medical treatment. Some dogs are simply more nervous or anxious and will use pacing as a way to relieve their anxiety. Others will pace when they are agitated about something or someone in or just outside the home. Some dogs may pace because they simply want your attention. You know your dog better than anyone else and if their pacing seems unusual, speak with your veterinarian about the possible causes and how to stop or minimize the behavior. 

There are certain medical conditions that can cause your dog to pace and act unsettled. You should speak with your veterinarian if the pacing is persistent or is accompanied by other symptoms such as refusal to eat or drink, sudden weight loss, discolored urine, excessive drooling, whining or crying or excessive thirst. 

Possible reasons your dog is pacing include:

  • Anxiety
  • Liver disease
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Brain tumors

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Why Pacing Occurs in Dogs


Anxiety can include several different things from separation anxiety to fear. Anxiety is when your dog becomes overly stressed and cannot emotionally deal with these stresses. It can be triggered by past trauma or bad experiences. Most dogs that experience severe anxiety can be given medications, either natural or prescription, to help alleviate their anxiousness. In some cases, a professional dog trainer may also be able to help you work with your dog to ease their anxiety. 

Liver Disease

It may seem odd to include liver disease as a potential cause of your dog’s pacing, but damage to the liver can cause abnormal neurological behaviors which include pacing and sudden changes in behavior. When the liver is not functioning right it cannot filter toxins out of the body. These toxins can then invade the bloodstream and affect the neurological system of your dog. 

Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease is the overproduction of the hormone cortisol. It is most common in older dogs, but can still affect dogs of any age. The most common symptoms of Cushing’s disease include pacing, wandering and restlessness. Cushing’s disease can cause pituitary tumors that can press against the brain or brain stem and cause neurological damage. This is a serious condition that will require on-going treatment.


Dogs can develop dementia or even Alzheimer’s disease. These conditions occur when your dog has low dopamine levels and deposits on the brain. The symptoms of dementia will come on slowly and you may not notice them at first. Your dog may become disoriented or confused and this can cause them to pace, wander or circle aimlessly. This is a degenerative disease.

Brain Tumor

Cancer rates in dogs, just like in humans, have skyrocketed and dogs can easily develop tumors in the brain or along the brainstem causing abnormal behavior. These tumors will affect the neurological system and cause your dog to pace and seem unsettled.

What to do if your Dog is Pacing

Sometimes dogs will pace when something upsets them or there is environmental stress. When the behavior persists beyond a few hours, you need to assess your dog and try to determine if they are seeking attention, suffering from anxiety or if there is a medical condition causing them to pace. 

Dogs that are anxious may still need to visit their veterinarian. An overly anxious dog may need medication to calm them. There are also natural remedies that can be given to alleviate some of their anxiety. Past experiences or trauma can also play a role in your dog’s anxiety and reassurance will help them. Sometimes, therapeutic treatments such as massage can help your dog’s anxiety as can working with a professional dog trainer. 

Dogs that have been diagnosed with a health condition that is causing them to pace, such as liver disease, Cushing’s disease, dementia or brain tumors, will require specialized veterinary care. Treatments will vary depending on the exact cause and the severity of the condition. Medications and/or surgeries may be advised by your veterinarian. On-going care and treatments should be expected.

Prevention of Pacing

It can be difficult to prevent a medical condition from occurring. Keep your dog active and feed them a quality food to ensure that they are getting the exercise and nutrients they need to maintain a healthy body. Be sure to schedule regular visits to your veterinarian to ensure that your dog is in optimal health. 

Dogs that are suffering from anxiety can become problematic and may require a professional dog trainer that specializes in anxiety in dogs. Take some time and research natural remedies for anxiety that will calm your dog and allow them to relax and not be so anxious.  Speak with your veterinarian about what you have researched and ask their opinion on the subject.

Cost of Pacing

Your dog’s health is very important to you but it can be expensive to treat certain conditions. Liver disease can cost around $5500 to treat. Cushing’s disease can cost around $2000 to treat. Dementia and other cognitive disorders can cost between $300 and $500 for treatment. Brain tumors can be very costly and treatments can range between $5000 and $12000.

Pacing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

West Highland White Terrier
4 Years
Fair condition
2 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

lack of appetite

My 4 year old Westie has been pacing and unsettled this morning. She didn't eat her breakfast nor has she had any water. She's urinated 3 times. Also when I just took her out she wanted to eat grass which isn't her normal behavior.

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1832 Recommendations
Pacing is a vague symptom and not specific for any particular condition, but if Popcorn is wanting to eat grass then it may be a case that she has some stomach upset which is causing discomfort which may be caused by gas, foreign objects, parasites or another cause. I am concerned that Popcorn isn’t drinking and you should try to encourage drinking by either giving water little by little with your fingers or slowly with a syringe; if there is no improvement you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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