What’s more adorable than a puppy running round and round in circles antically trying to catch his own tail? In some instances, it’s completely normal behavior for your dog to make a couple of circles, but if your dog is repeatedly “circling” or walking in circles, there is most likely an underlying issue, and it could be a serious one.
Why does my old dog walk in circles?
Circling most often indicates an issue with your dog’s ears or brain. Follow along as we examine what circling is, what some other symptoms of related illnesses may be, what some common causes are, and what you can do about it.
What is the meaning of “circling”?
Your dog’s circling behavior can have one or more of many causes, and “circling” has a couple of “definitions”, each of which depends on the cause. For instance, if your dog’s circling is caused by anxiety as a product of pain and normal cognitive decline, it is categorized as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
However, if your dog is in some stage of cognitive dysfunction as a result of an illness like dementia also causing issues like imbalance, some professionals categorize circling as a spatial orientation problem. Could it be both?
When is it normal for my dog to walk in circles?
There are essentially only two times when it is normal for an adult dog to walk in circles, and there is another fact you need to consider. Read on.
It’s not uncommon for dogs to circle a couple of times before going potty.
For many dogs, it’s a habit to turn a couple of circles before using the bathroom. They sniff around until they find their spot, turn a couple of circles, and then, do their business. This is perfectly normal behavior for a lot of adult dogs.
It’s nothing to worry about if your dog circles a couple of times before he sits down.
Some dogs make a couple of circles before sitting or lying down. Again, it just becomes a habit for them. There is no telling, really, how it gets started, but there is no reason to think anything is wrong with your dog if he does this.
However, if your dog circles more than a couple of times, you should investigate.
You should, though, if your dog is circling more than a couple of times, probe into what may be the cause. When something is wrong with your dog’s ears or brain, it is usually not easy to deal with, and any illness is easier dealt with when you catch it early.
Besides circling, what are other signs to look for?
If your dog is sick, he will eventually begin to show other signs of illness. Hopefully, you have already taken him to the vet to try and determine the cause of his circling, but if you haven’t, and you see the following signs, it’s now time to head that way.
Circling gets out of control.
Circling behavior, if not treated, will not improve but will get progressively worse until your dog barely has any control of it. He, at this point, will circle only in one direction, and any attempt to detour him may result in him running into things.
Spatial disorientation takes hold.
You may also begin to notice him staring blankly and stationary, wandering aimlessly, getting trapped because he cannot find his way out of places, and having strange interactions with inanimate objects.
What are some common causes of circling?
Circling will usually not appear as the exclusive sign of an illness. The condition will be accompanied by other symptoms that could give you clues as to exactly which illness you are dealing with. Here are some common reasons for circling behavior in dogs.
Besides circling, other symptoms include loss of appetite, vocalizing when the wound is touched, and pupils dilating in an unusual manner. A head injury can cause a skewed sense of direction, as well.
If your dog shows these signs, you should do a quick exam to find out what type of injury he has and deduce what type of care he requires. In most cases, head injuries require an immediate visit to the vet, as a concussion can cause swelling and bleeding that can cause permanent brain damage.
Your dog may need to take it easy and forego certain activities for as much as six months to make certain the brain is completely healed.
Inner Ear Infections
Besides circling, other symptoms of inner ear infections include an unpleasant odor radiating from and redness surrounding the ears, head shaking, and difficulty focusing the eyes.
If your dog presents with these symptoms, he should be taken to the vet immediately. His vet will most likely do a deep cleaning of his ears and give him prescription medication.
Ear infections can be prevented with regular cleanings because excessive wax in your dog’s ears leaves your dog’s ears ripe for infection. Because bacteria thrive in warm, moist spaces, dogs with ears that cover the ear opening are more prone to infection.
Besides circling, other symptoms include excessive drooling, head hanging down, and falling. The symptoms often mimic that of a stroke.
Vestibular syndrome affects the inner ear, and thus, your dog’s balance. The cause of this disease isn’t really sure, but it is supposed that it’s ear damage from a nutritional deficiency, an infection, or an injury.
You will want a veterinarian to diagnose your dog if he is presenting with these symptoms. He will probably be treated with antibiotics, corticosteroids, and anti-epileptic or antifungal medications.
OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) or CCD (Canine Compulsive Disorder)
Circling can also be part of a behavioral disorder called OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder, also called CCD or canine compulsive disorder in dogs. If your dog has CCD, you will notice him performing normal behaviors repetitively and extremely. He will have trouble stopping the behavior, and it may even interfere with his ability to function. He may forget simple things, including his basic training.
For instance, you may notice that he will suddenly appear to be lost in a place he is familiar with. You may also pick up on some unexplained aggression. Aggression can be brought on simply from the fact that he doesn’t remember who you are.
Some examples of dog behaviors that were once normal but have become compulsive include acral lick dermatitis (compulsive licking); pacing, spinning, or chasing the tail; staring or freezing; snapping at flies or even invisible objects; unabated or patterned barking; and eating dirt or excessively drinking water.
Many dogs do a few of these things, but if your dog doesn’t do them “compulsively”, they are all right. In other words, if he doesn’t do it for long periods, he does do it in normal settings, and he can eat and rest normally, there shouldn’t be an issue. It’s when a dog does these things to an extent beyond what is normal and cannot control themselves to stop when it’s appropriate that you should begin to worry.
Sadly, there is no treatment for dementia in dogs at this time. While some dietary supplements may help to slow the disease a little, as will any exercising of his mind, dementia is a progressive disease and generally, there is only one outcome. As the disease progresses, though, you can work to give him as much quality of life as possible.
Besides circling, other symptoms include an increase in hunger and thirst, excessive panting, and a reduction in normal activity.
If your dog has developed Cushing’s disease, he now has difficulty producing energy from the food he eats, and this affects his whole body, even his brain. Pacing and circling are behavioral changes you will see with Cushing’s disease.
Treatments for Cushing’s disease are in the experimental stages, for the most part, and Cushing’s is usually a progressive disease.
Why is my dog suddenly walking in circles?
If your dog is suddenly walking in circles, it is time to take him to his veterinarian. Whatever his illness, the earlier he sees his doctor, the better his chances for recovery.
If you wait to see what happens, the circling is only going to progress. You will eventually see more advanced signs of spatial orientation. Depending on what is wrong with your dog, you could see more signs than I can list here.
What are the signs of doggie dementia?
Just the thought of your dog having dementia is terribly upsetting. Dementia is an illness that can only be correctly diagnosed by your dog’s veterinarian. If you see some of the following signs of dementia presenting in your dog, it is imperative that you get him to his vet immediately for a thorough examination.
Varying Degrees of Confusion
When your dog starts showing outward signs of dementia, one of the first signs you’ll see is bouts of confusion, also called disorientation, or in the most severe cases, delirium. When he is confused, he may look like he’s lost, even though he is in a familiar place.
Dogs presenting with dementia are already dealing with confusion, so they are probably both frustrated and severely anxious, even terrified of what is happening to them. He may jump up at the slightest noise.
If your dog is suffering from dementia, his memory will begin to fail him. He will suddenly not remember bits and pieces of his previous training or standing rules and routines for the home. He may even fail to answer to his name at some point. You may see that he forgets where he is in familiar places.
You may notice your dog becoming increasingly irritable, even aggressive. Often, this is due to the frustration of confusion and memory loss. He may simply be afraid because he doesn’t remember who you are.
Your dog may wander aimlessly around, going nowhere, with no purpose and no liveliness, having no fun, just wandering. This comes from a decaying portion of his brain that controls memory, learning, and comprehension. This doesn’t just mean now, but what he has comprehended, learned, or remembered in the past.
In the advanced stages of dementia, dogs will seem disoriented and without purpose. They will stare at walls blankly, or even at absolutely nothing, for long periods. They will start losing their desire to groom themselves or play and will lose their ability to learn new things.
Loss of Base Functions
As your dog’s dementia progresses, he will begin to lose his appetite. Just like his desire to play or groom himself, his desire to eat will dissipate, and he will begin to lose weight. This is when dementia gets the toughest for both dogs and their owners because choices have to be made about how much to let them suffer.
You may also notice, at this point, that he will experience changes in his sleep cycle. He may start sleeping all day and staying awake all night, which could be hard on you, as he may need a bit of supervision at this point.
Can I get my dog to stop walking in circles?
Well, whether you can stop your dog from walking in circles depends on the cause. For example, if he has an inner ear infection, once it heals up, he should stop walking in circles; however, if he is suffering from dementia, there may be nothing you can do. The first step is to take him to his veterinarian armed with all the facts concerning his symptoms, his diet, his history, and so on, and get an educated diagnosis from a degreed animal doctor.
What to do about my dog walking in circles?
As stated above in “Can I get my dog to stop walking in circles?”, you have no clue where to start concerning helping your dog who is circling until he has been diagnosed by a degreed animal doctor (veterinarian). You must gather your dog’s history, information about his diet and any changes to his diet, notes on all his symptoms, and any other related information you think may help your vet determine what is wrong with your dog and take him for a thorough exam immediately.
If he has an inner ear infection, a head injury, or even vestibular syndrome, he can be treated, and the circling should stop relatively soon. However, if he has a more severe disease like Cushing’s Disease or Dementia, circling may be a behavior you will have to learn to endure as the disease progresses.
As Cushing’s Disease and Dementia progress, your dog will eventually need palliative care, and at the very end, it will get worse, as dogs lose their appetites and stop eating. So, if this is the case, prepare to make hard decisions. However, you won’t know what is wrong with your dog until you take him to his vet, so don’t panic — just make an appointment.