Because dogs can’t talk to their owners to tell them what’s wrong, you’ll have to pay close attention to their behavior to get clues.
If your old dog is walking in circles, there is likely something wrong. Below, we’ll discuss circling behavior and why your dog may exhibit it.
What Is Circling Behavior?
When a dog is walking in circles, it’s usually a sign of a deeper issue. Your dog may repeatedly walk in circles, pace back and forth, or “circling” when they attempt to walk straight.
Some dogs may walk around in circles seemingly randomly, while others will do the repeated action before lying down, going to the bathroom, or doing other activities.
If you suspect your dog is walking in circles, pay close attention to their overall behavior. Sometimes, their circles are tight and easy to spot; other times, they may be wider and more challenging to identify.
Other times, your senior dog walking in circles can mean they are struggling with stress or anxiety. In some cases, circling behavior is a sign of cognitive issues.
You may also notice other symptoms like sleep disturbances, disorientation, or incontinence. Don’t ignore any unusual behaviors your dog exhibits, as early intervention can prevent delaying the decline of mental function.
Dog anxiety can cause your dog to walk in circles or pace at any age, though it’s more prevalent as they age. When dogs exhibit circling behavior due to anxiety, it’s symptomatic of dog OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) as it gives your dog more of a sense of control.
Not all senior dogs will experience significantly different behavioral changes, but knowing the signs and symptoms can help you prepare for any shifts.
Why Is My Old Dog Walking in Circles?
There are several reasons your old dog may be walking in circles. Here are the leading causes of circling behavior.
Pain or Anxiety
If your dog is walking in circles, they may be experiencing pain or anxiety. Pain can also lead to stress, which can become especially bad if your dog is anxious.
Dogs feel pain for similar reasons humans do, like dental problems, arthritis, infections, cancer, or bone disease. They may also feel uncomfortable after a surgical procedure. Unfortunately, dogs cannot tell us what’s wrong and where they’re hurt. Circling along with other signs is their way of telling you what’s wrong.
Other signs to watch for:
- Excessive barking
- Shallow Breathing
What to Do
Pain can range from acute to chronic and mild to severe. If you think your dog is in pain, take them to the vet so they can find the root of the cause as well as recommend or prescribe pain medications to manage their discomfort.
Behavioral or mental health disorder
Like humans, dogs can experience behavioral disorders. If this is the case, you won’t notice any medical symptoms though other strange behaviors may occur.
Symptoms of behavioral problems in dogs:
- Compulsive licking
- Decreased appetite
- Excessively chasing their tail
- Being easily startled
- Inappropriate eating
- Inappropriate elimination
- Chasing behaviors
- Random aggressive outbursts
Dogs can experience their version of mental health disorders humans experience. Some types of conditions include:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or hyperkinesis in dogs
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD) in dogs
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
What to Do
The severity of the disorder depends on the number and intensity of symptoms. If you suspect your dog has a behavioral disorder, consult with a veterinarian so they can diagnose your dog.
Make sure your dog gets plenty of mental and physical exercise. Do your best to remove and keep your dog away from any triggers.
Otitis Externa or Inner Ear Infection
Older dogs may walk in circles if they have an inner ear infection, or otitis externa. When the inner ear has any trauma, like an infection, it can cause balance issues and dizziness.
Other inner ear infection symptoms include:
- Shaking their head
- Scratching or pawing at their ear(s)
- Rubbing the affected ear against the floor or objects
- Foul odor from the ear
- Redness or swelling of the ear canal
- Yellow, brown, or bloody discharge
- Redness & swelling of the ear canal
Typically, it starts as an outer ear infection and progresses, though an inner ear infection can come out of nowhere.
What to Do
If your dog exhibits other symptoms with circling, you must make an appointment with the vet; they need immediate treatment.
Inner ear infections are deep into the ear canal, past the eardrum, and close to the dog’s brain. Unfortunately, topical ear medication won’t get deep enough. So, your dog will likely need oral antibiotics.
Senior dogs are prone to vestibular disease, which is a condition that affects their inner ear and balance. Vestibular disease typically results from infection or injury, though sometimes the cause can be a nutritional deficiency.
Other symptoms of vestibular syndrome:
- Repeatedly falling
- Excessively drooling
- Flicking eyes side to side
- Walking with head down
- Loss of appetite
Sometimes, the vestibular disease can look similar to a stroke. If your vet diagnoses your dog with this condition, you can make a few changes to ensure your dog’s comfort.
What to Do
Remove anything in your home that could injure your dog if they stumble into it. If your dog struggles with incontinence, remove any soiled bedding as needed.
Ensure there is food and water close by your dog, so they don’t have to walk far to get it. However, your dog may struggle to eat or not have much appetite. You may need to carry your dog outside to use the bathroom if they have difficulty getting around.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)
A slow decline in dogs’ cognitive function as they age is known as canine cognitive dysfunction or ‘dog dementia’.
Symptoms of CDD:
- Decreased desire to play
- Excessively licking
- Disregarding their training
- Difficulty following familiar routes
What to Do
Unfortunately, CCD is an incurable, progressive disease that gets more severe over time. However, you can make a few changes to maintain their quality of life.
Stick with a consistent routine to help your dog keep from feeling confused. Add in dietary supplements that your vet recommends. Continue providing plenty of mental and physical stimulation, though don’t be surprised if your dog isn’t always in the mood.
Neurological disorders or brain ailments, such as tumors or head injuries, can cause your dog to exhibit circling behavior.
Other symptoms of neurological disorders in dogs:
- Abnormal gait
- Unusual eye movements
- Dragging feet
- Spinal, neck, or back pain
- Head tilting or leaning
- Balance issues
- Scratching towards their body without making contact
There are several neurological issues dogs can experience. Some examples include:
- Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
- Cushing’s Disease
- Brain Inflammation/Hydrocephalus
- Brain Tumor
- Canine Degenerative Myelopathy
- Brain or spinal trauma
- Epilepsy (seizures)
- Degenerative disorders
- Peripheral nerve diseases
What to Do
If you suspect that your dog has neurological issues, make an appointment with their vet so they can run some tests.
Some disorders are more severe than others, but many have cures or medication to help them manage the symptoms.
Why is My Senior Dog Walking in Circles and Standing in Corners?
Seeing your beloved pet exhibiting strange behaviors for seemingly no reason can be upsetting. There are a few reasons why your dog may be standing in corners.
If your dog is exhibiting circling behavior and standing in corners, they may be experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, or fear. Sometimes the cause of fear or anxiety is apparent, such as loud fireworks that your dog isn’t used to.
Dogs may act strangely from experiences like changes in routine, life changes, new smells or people, loud noises, or mistreatment. Corners may feel like a safe, comfortable space and circling behavior gives your dog a sense of control and comfort.
Be mindful of when your dog exhibits circling behavior or stands in corners. If you notice a consistent trigger, do your best to avoid or remove said trigger. If the behavior persists, take your dog to the vet and give them a detailed description of how they have been acting.
What Should I Do if My Old Dog is Walking in Circles?
Take notice of how often it happens, what seems to trigger it, and anything else you notice about their circling behavior.
Additionally, be mindful of any other symptoms you notice your dog exhibit. Even if they seem small or insignificant, it can help your veterinarian narrow down the cause. Once the vet diagnoses your pet, they may prescribe medications to help manage symptoms.
How Do I Stop My Dog From Walking Around In Circles?
Hopefully, symptoms will subside after you determine the cause of the problem. Aside from recommendations from your vet, there are a few ways to help stop the behavior.
Increase any calming activities for your dog, such as belly rubs or going outside. Make sure they get plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. If your dog continues to exhibit circling behavior, keep your house uncluttered and avoid moving furniture around to ensure your dog’s safety.
It can be very disconcerting to see your senior dog begin to behave in new and odd ways, including walking in circles. When it is environmentally triggered, you can do your best to identify and then avoid that trigger. In the case of cognitive disorders as a result of aging, you can only manage the condition by keeping your dog safe and comfortable.