What does it mean when a dog walks in circles? A Step-by-Step Guide

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. We would consider ear infections, an injury, stroke, brain tumour, idiopathic vestibular disease or anxiety disorder. As serious health issues can be at play, it is of the utmost importance that your dog is taken in for a medical check up right away. 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, any 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, a head tilt, ear scratching, redness 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 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, vomiting 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. Anxiolytics may be prescribed and your behaviourist can talk you through a tailored program.

    Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.

    Animals with distemper may have a nasal discharge and seem uncoordinated in their movements. Other signs include aggression, lethargy, wandering, and excessive thirst. The disease is transmitted via fluids produced by coughing and sneezing, and pets are most likely to get distemper from contact with other dogs. Puppies are especially susceptible to this disease, and many veterinarians recommended vaccinations starting at an early age. There is no treatment for the disease, but with good general care, the pet may gradually recover.

    Its possible your dog could be experiencing anxiety for some reason. This wont fix any underlying medical problems, but if you believe your dog is more anxious than usual, uncomfortable, or feeling some type of discomfort it could help to give them something that helps calm them down until the underlying problem has been appropriately treated.

    Although it is normal for puppies to chase their tails and even for fully-grown animals to dash around in wild twists and turns, it is more unusual for a pet to walk in circles. Some dogs will do this prior to settling down to sleep, or before defecating, in which case it may be normal behavior, but if it occurs at other times, or in a dog that has not previously behaved this way, it may be a sign that something is wrong. Among the possible causes are an inner ear infection, a blow to the head, or neurological problems resulting from an infection, such as neosporosis, canine distemper, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). If a pet shows this behavior, a veterinarian should be consulted without delay, as it can be a sign of a very serious problem. In some cases, however, no obvious cause can be found.

    Walking in circles, if it does not come under normal behavior, needs to be investigated. The cause may be neurological, in which case the animal may be unable to walk normally, due to damage to the brain or changes in brain chemistry. It may be possible for the owner to establish this with a few simple tests. If the pet can be distracted from its circular walking pattern so that it walks normally, this suggests that there is nothing wrong in the brain. If the dog seems to have difficulty focusing its eyes, or if the pupils expand and contract frequently and rapidly, this suggests a brain problem, which might have been caused by a head injury.

    Dog Walking in Circles: When It’s Normal

    What does it mean when a dog walks in circles?

    Sometimes this behavior is instinctual and harmless. Here are a few of the most common benign reasons for a dog walking in circles.

    Why Does My Dog… Walk in Circles Before Lying Down?

    Seeing Fido wander around in strange circling patterns or just seeing him plain disjointed from the real world can make you go crazy.

    It might not feel like a medical emergency but it’s a scary sight for sure if the behavior is excessive and prolonged.

    Sure, mild cases of dogs circling can mean they chase their tail, have something sticking to their rear end, or just aren’t able to find the perfect spot before plopping down.

    However, if the behavior is excessive, you definitely want to look into it to rule out major issues.

    No worries, we’ll go over each reason and make sure you know exactly why your dog is circling and seems disoriented.

    At the very least you know what to expect and might be able to get a sense of what could be causing your dog’s distress.