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What are Walking in Circles?

Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not commonly walk around in circles before settling down or sitting. They may turn in place a couple of times before they lie down, or before they clear out their bowels, but that is all. If you notice that your dog has begun to walk in circles regularly, you will want to visit a vet as this may be a sign of something amiss with your pet’s health. 

  • Inner ear infection
  • Vestibular syndrome
  • Injuries
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder

It is important to schedule an evaluation for your dog order to receive proper medication and care for any of these situations.

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Why Walking in Circles Occurs in Dogs

Surprisingly, there are quite a few underlying issues that can cause your dog to start walking in circles. There can be the problem of ear infections, the feeling of being off balance, a major or minor injury, stroke, or unusual behavior such as OCD. Some of the symptoms from these health issues can be mistaken for a more serious disease, so it is of the utmost importance that your dog is taken in for a medical check up. That will determine what course of action is needed for each of these situations. 

Inner Ear Infection

One of the most common reasons why dogs walk in circles, the ear infection needs to be treated right away. If your dog is having an ear problem, you will be able to tell by its behavior. If there are any offensive smells coming from the ear, redness, inability to focus the eyes, or head shaking, there is a very high chance your dog has an ear infection. 

Without proper treatment, this infection can creep further down into the ear, eventually causing more major issues. So, take your dog to the veterinarian right away. Treatment is typically simple, depending on the severity, and involves a deep cleaning and prescribed medications. 

Vestibular Syndrome

A condition that tends to be found in older dogs, vestibular syndrome simply is a disease that affects the inner ear and balance. While the exact cause has yet to be determined, there are a number of factors that could bring about this issue:

  • Ear Damage From Injury
  • Nutritional deficiency 
  • Infection of upper respiratory tract
  • Abnormal tissue growth

Despite what may be causing this loss of balance, if your dog is showing signs of vestibular syndrome he needs to be taken to the vet as soon as possible. The most common signs are falling down constantly, excessive drooling, walking with the head down, and circling. It is easy to mistake vestibular syndrome for a stroke, as the symptoms can be similar. 


Injury can be a cause for circular walking in dogs (specifically head injuries). If you notice that your dog is walking in circles, has strange pupil dilation, whines when touched in certain areas of the head, or has a loss of appetite he may have a head injury. Take your dog to the vet right away if you are aware of or suspect a recent head injury. 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

While there may be medication to help this particular issue in dogs, you can try visiting a behavioral specialist in order to curb this issue with your pup. Chat with a vet about the best possible solutions to help any unusual behavior problems your dog may have.

What to do if your Dog is Walking in Circles

If you suspect that your dog may have a problem that is causing it to walk in circles, there are a couple of tests that can be performed. 

First, try to distract your dog and encourage it to move in the opposite direction that it is spinning. This is because is there is some kind of neurological issue, the dog will not be able to change direction easily. 

The second test is to check your dog’s eyes. One who has no brain issues will have the ability to focus easily on things. If you check your pet and they are unable to focus, have eyes that dilate randomly, and act blind in both or either eye, then you will need to have them inspected for brain injury. Ask yourself these three questions after performing these tests:

  • Did the exam reveal symptoms of an ear infection?
  • Did the exam uncover any problems with the eyes?
  • Did everything seem relatively normal?

If you answered yes to either or the first two questions, get your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible in order to treat whatever the issue may be. If you answered yes to the third however, it may just be a behavioral issue and could be resolved over time or with help from a behavioral specialist. In any case, an evaluation by a veterinary professional is warranted.

Prevention of Walking in Circles

In order to prevent infection occurring in the ear, the best course of action is annual check ups and cleaning of the ears. By doing this, you can at least lower the chance or your dog receiving an infection through wax buildup, mites, or injury. Additionally, the annual wellness check will include vaccinations and blood work if necessary, aimed at preventing or diagnosing early a potential health risk.

Although it is difficult to be protective of your dog at all times, monitor him when outside so that you can be aware of any head injuries your dog may have received. In doing so, you can catch any primary or secondary issues early and get your dog to the clinic for treatment as soon as possible.

Cost of Walking in Circles

If your canine has an ear infection that is leading him to walk in a circular pattern, the expense to treat may average $450, while vestibular syndrome may cost an average of $1000.

Walking in Circles Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

16 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Loss of Balance

My 16 year old dog, while out walking with me, will stop and then turn all the way around and start walking with me again. This may happen all the way home every few steps. Recently she lost all coordination and had fast eye movements and kept arching her back looking behind her. It took hours for her to be able to stand and walk at all.

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Chow Lab mix
13 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Is this a stroke & what can be done for future care. 13-14 year old Chow-Lab mix, indoor & pampered. Sunday was chasing ball & playing. She was home alone Monday & we came home to her on the couch(unusual when we get home)walking very slow & walking in circles to the left. Not moving around a lot & didn't eat much, drinking water though.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1610 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. It is possible that Angel had a stroke, or a vestibular problem, or an inner ear infection. It would be best to have her examined by a veterinarian to determine what might be going on, as they can see her, and recommend any possible testing or treatment that she may need.

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2 Years
Critical condition
0 found helpful
Critical condition

What do I do? My dog is spinning in circles repeatedly. He will not turn the other direction. He will walk by turning in a circle moving one step and then another circle and so forth. Please help!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
There are various causes for circling in dogs which may include ear infections, other infections, vestibular disorders, tumours, hormonal conditions, liver disease, behavioural disorders among other causes; without examining Jerry, I cannot give you a specific cause and you should visit your Veterinarian for a general examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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17 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


Medication Used


I have a almost 17yr old chihuahua she went to skeep tonight bout 930 & I woke up to her continously walking in circles she won't be still. When I pick her up she fusses to be put back down. She is blind & almost completely deaf, has been for a quite awhile. Please help

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
There are a few different causes for a dog to walk in circles which may include ear infections, head trauma, vestibular disorder, stroke among other causes; without examining Jace it is difficult to say what the specific cause is. You should try to keep Jace calm for the time being but if this behaviour continues you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination before the weekend. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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