Why Do Dogs Walk in Circles Before They Die? Do They Even?

Zack Keithy, our author, is a certified veterinarian technician (UC Blue Ash) for over 6 years (contact him here). The articles written here are based on his expertise and experience, combined with a review by our expert vet reviewers including Dr M. Tarantino. Learn more about us here.

Dogs are such loyal companions. They love us unconditionally, and we love them back. It’s a beautiful thing.

The thing is, they have some behavior that often leaves us scratching our heads, like circling.

While some people say that dogs do perform this “ritual”, others have found that this is not true.

So let’s find out if there is any truth behind the question: Why do dogs walk in circles before they die?

First, let’s understand why a dog would walk in circles and if there is any truth behind the claim that they do so before they die.

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Dear Dog Owner

Do Dogs Walk in Circles Before They Die?

Why Do Dogs Walk in Circles Before They Die featured image

Dogs don’t always walk in circles when they’re about to die, nor do they usually scream and die as some people think.

Sometimes they just lay down and close their eyes.

Sometimes they’ll wander off like nothing’s wrong at all and die in their sleep.

You can never know for sure whether your dog is about to pass away at any moment, so don’t get too attached to the idea of this being a thing for certain.

It probably has something to do with how we treat our pets as living beings as opposed to objects for our own amusement.

We love them so much that when we see our dogs acting strangely, especially in old age, we try to find some meaning in what they’re doing.

Doggy says, read this too: Dog won’t move with cone on?

18 Reasons Why Your Dog Walks in Circles

Dogs do sometimes walk in circles, and there are several reasons for that.

Although some dogs might be seen doing it before they die, there is really no scientific proof behind it.

However, here are some known facts about why they do so.

1. Normal behavior

Dogs in the wild may circle to check for nearby predators using their senses of sight and smell and this behavior is still present in domesticated dogs.

It is most likely that they are doing it to make the area more comfortable for resting.

At the same time, they might be sniffing out if the area has been marked by other dogs.

2. Discomfort or distress

Is something in the environment causing a lot of stress to your dog? Or could it be something stuck on its body that is causing it lots of discomfort? Did it go through vaccination recently?

Sometimes, a simple check like this will resolve the issue and stop your dog from behaving this way.

Pay attention to things like loud noises (construction, thunder) or strange objects or people that might cause it to panic and go around in circles.

Doggy says, consider reading this too: Why is My Puppy Walking Funny? [Solve the Mystery]

3. Need to Poop

Dogs are incredibly intelligent creatures, and they can be very particular about where it leaves their business behind.

They will often try to hold their poop in until they find a place that’s comfortable.

When your dog walks in circles, it could very well be because he’s trying to find the perfect spot for his business!

If you notice that your pup is walking in circles, give him some time and space.

If he still doesn’t take care of business after a few minutes, take him outside immediately so he can relieve himself.

4. Hungry

When your pup comes in from a long walk and starts circling around, it could mean one of two things: they’re either looking for something to eat or they’re trying to find their favorite toy.

Dogs can’t tell us when they’re hungry, so they have to find other ways of communicating their needs.

One way that dogs do this is by circling around something—usually, the thing that will satisfy their hunger.

If your dog is circling around its bowl, it’s probably time for a snack!

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5. Ear infections

Problems with the ear often cause our dogs to behave abnormally, and sometimes it might be quite hard to determine whether your dog’s outer, middle, or inner is perhaps infected or injured.

You might notice your dog barking and shaking its head, and when it gets more serious, it can start to lose its balance often.

It might also start to rub its head against objects, as this behavior is often associated with ear infections.

6. Injury and pain

Other than very obvious injuries, it is also possible that your dog could be suffering from mild or serious pain.

You might notice your dog limping, licking its paw excessively, or whining excessively.

More likely, it could have suffered a head injury that has gone unnoticed and is now showing signs of it through its unusual behavior.

7. Cushing’s disease

Cushing’s disease is a condition in which a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol, a steroid hormone.

It can be caused by an adrenal tumor or inflammation of the pituitary gland at the base of the brain, which secretes hormones that control blood sugar levels, growth and development, and other functions.

Dogs that have Cushing’s disease may walk in circles because they have trouble standing still due to their weakened muscles and impaired balance from high blood pressure.

8. Neosporosis

A potentially fatal disease known as neosporosis is spread by parasites that can be found in some raw meats and in the feces of afflicted animals.

This disease can also be passed from dog to dog by the consumption of contaminated food or liquids and can cause paralysis and weaken a dog’s muscles.

Their head tends to droop to one side and walking in circles is a common behavior in dogs suffering from neosporosis.

9. Brain inflammation

You may also be familiar with the terms inflammatory brain illness or meningitis to describe brain inflammation.

Circling behavior is one of the primary signs of necrotizing meningoencephalitis (NME), a type of brain inflammation, along with seizures and behavioral changes.

This condition can be quite difficult to diagnose and will require an MRI and analyzing a brain sample.

10. Brain tumor

One of the common symptoms of a dog having a brain tumor is loss of balance, so it is not abnormal to see one walking in circles.

Other symptoms include wobbling, tilting of the head, seizures, and reduced mental acuity.

11. Canine distemper

Canine distemper is a different illness that can result in collapse and circling in place.

It is brought on by a virus and typically begins with a lung and respiratory illness, and could possible be caused by kennel cough.

The later stages frequently result in neurological impairment, seizures, paralysis, muscle spasms, and a propensity to wander in circles.

Distemper can cause nasal discharge in animals and make them move clumsily.

Aggression, sluggishness, roaming, and extreme thirst are further symptoms.

This disease is most commonly contracted by dogs coming into touch with other dogs because the disease is spread by the fluids produced when coughing and sneezing.

Since puppies are particularly prone to this illness, many veterinarians advise vaccines beginning at a young age.

Although there is no cure for the illness, a dog may eventually recover with appropriate general care.

Doggy says, consider reading this too: Dog Puts Head on Other Dog’s Neck

12. Canine dementia

More accurately known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), it’s not unusual to see dogs with vestibular system problems wandering about in circles.

It affects senior dogs frequently, making them lose their direction and spin in circles.

Confusion, diminished awareness, aimlessness, and perhaps an inability to identify its owner after the circling activity are common warning signals.

The exact cause of this illness and which dogs are most severely affected are still unknown.

However, a good diet and way of life that includes regular brain stimulation for dogs may help them avoid displaying these symptoms as they age.

13. Stroke

A dog walking in a circle may be suffering from a stroke, which causes a loss of balance that may result in your dog frequently falling over.

Blood clots, kidney disease, high blood pressure, head trauma, and migrating worms can all be contributing factors to a stroke, although this is really rare in dogs.

14. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is a condition that causes your dog to compulsively perform certain actions over and over again.

It’s similar to human OCD in that it involves repetitive actions, and it is caused by anxiety or stress—like separation anxiety—as well as boredom and frustration.

The compulsive behavior can be anything from tail-chasing to spinning or pacing back and forth on a mat.

Some dogs will even engage in repetitive licking or chewing patterns.

15. Ataxia

There are many different ataxia conditions, and each one has a different set of symptoms.

The inner ear or the brainstem may be affected by vestibular ataxia, which is the most likely type that will cause your dog to walk in circles.

Again, underlying problems can be tumors, damage to the skull or ear, inner or middle ear infection, etc.

16. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

SLE is a type of autoimmune illness that affects the entire body and can result in arthritis, muscular weakness, and a wide range of other symptoms including fever and renal disease.

Diagnoses might be challenging because the disease can mimic many different ailments, and a blood test is often used by a veterinarian to determine if it exists.

Early symptoms of SLE include paralysis, a limp, and a sudden inability to walk straight.

The disease is frequently made worse by exposure to sunlight.

There are some breeds of dogs that are predisposed to this condition, including the collie, beagle, and German Shepherd.

17. Cognitive disorder

An aging dog’s brain could lose the capacity to correctly process the outside world.

Perhaps the dog is unaware of its whereabouts or perhaps they discover themselves in a different reality.

Some of the symptoms include being confused and pacing up and down, sometimes in circles.

Do you know why dogs stare at the floor?

18. Hydrocephalus

Brain swelling known as hydrocephalus is typically brought on by an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) inside the brain.

Certain breeds, such as toy breeds, are predisposed to it, and it can be acquired or congenital (existing at birth).

In addition to your dog’s circle-walking and other signs of forebrain dysfunction, hydrocephalus can result in wide-set eyes, a domed skull, and difficulty eating and drinking.

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What to Do if Your Dog is Walking in Circles?

What to Do if Your Dog is Walking in Circles?

If you see your dog walking in circles but does not show any particular change in behavior, it is usually harmless.

But, if this behavior is prolonged, you definitely need to bring your dog to the vet for a check-up.

In many cases, circling behavior has something to do with a dog’s brain, and without the right treatment soon, can develop into something fatal.

At the onset, what you can do is identify potential causes such as environmental changes, if it has water stuck after swimming, or simply the need to poop.

Beyond that, note down any strange behaviors such as shaking of the head violently, vomiting, loss of appetite, and limping.

All these are warning signs that your dog needs professional help.

In the meantime, you can do your part to avoid these issues from happening by feeding your dog a healthy diet, exercising it regularly, and making sure to see a vet yearly.

When Should You Be Concerned About Your Dog’s Circling?

If your dog is circling excessively, even after you’ve given him some time to calm down, it could mean he has a medical issue like a brain tumor or brain disease.

When this happens once in a while, there’s no need for alarm; just make sure he gets plenty of exercise and has lots of toys and chewable, so he doesn’t get bored and start going into circles again!

In addition to circling in one area of the house, if your dog is showing signs such as walking very slowly (sluggishness) or appearing unsteady on their feet, then this is a sign you need to take further action.

Why is My Dog Spinning in Circles and Panting?

If your dog is spinning in circles and panting excessively, it could be indicative of several underlying causes.

One possibility is that your dog is experiencing anxiety or fear, which can manifest in repetitive spinning behavior and increased panting as a response to stress.

Other potential causes may include pain or discomfort, neurological issues, or even certain medical conditions.

How do you know what’s the exact cause?

As a layman, what you can do is observe your dog’s behavior and consider any accompanying symptoms.

Why is My Old Dog Walking in Circles and Standing in Corners?

why is my old dog walking in circles and standing in corners

When an old dog starts walking in circles and standing in corners, it can be a concerning behavior that may indicate underlying health issues.

One possible explanation is cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), which is a degenerative condition affecting older dogs’ cognitive abilities, similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

Dogs with this disease may exhibit disorientation, confusion, and changes in behavior.

Walking in circles and seeking out corners could be a manifestation of their impaired spatial awareness and memory.

Apart from CDS, other potential causes include neurological disorders.

Conditions such as brain tumors, strokes, or vestibular disease can affect a dog’s balance and coordination, leading to circular walking patterns.

If your dog shows other signs like head tilting, loss of appetite, or abnormal eye movements, you should consult a veterinarian promptly for further evaluation and appropriate diagnostic tests.

Why Does My Senior Dog Walk in Circles for Hours?

I gotta say that this should not even be allowed to happen unless there wasn’t anyone around to help your dog.

If you were present, you need to step in if it goes on for more than a few minutes.

Do a physical check on your dog to see if anything is bothering it, and watch for unusual behavior.

Take it out to relieve itself, and if nothing works, you need to see the emergency vet right away.

What Are the Signs of Your Dog Dying?

Our dogs will leave us eventually, and before they do, there are some signs that give us time to prepare.

  • Breathing heavily, especially if it looks like he or she is gasping for air, or making wheezing noises when breathing
  • No longer eating or drinking
  • Sleeping more than usual and does not interact with family members anymore
  • Does not respond when called by name or when petted by a family member or friend
  • Lost weight and looks thinner than normal for the breed and age of the animal
  • Trouble walking, or they’re not moving at all
  • Muscles twitching
  • Emitting a dying dog smell (not necessarily a bad smell)

What Do Dogs Do When They Know They’re Dying?

There is no evidence that shows that dogs know their impending death, but after having gone through this a few times, I do think that they seem to know.

During their last days, they usually either one of these behaviors:

  • Withdraw themselves from every one, no longer interacting
  • Seek out more attention from their owners (more so than usual)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why do dogs walk in circles before they sit?

In most likelihood, a dog that walks in circles before sitting is just trying to make the spot as comfortable as possible, much like trampling grass in the wild to prepare to sit.

Why do dogs walk in circles before they poop?

A dog walking in circles before they poop is just trying to get comfortable before unloading its waste. They want to make sure that the spot is safe and stable before it begins.

Why is my old dog walking in circles?

Old dogs may walk in circles due to various reasons, including cognitive decline, neurological issues, or vestibular disease. These conditions can affect their spatial awareness and balance, causing repetitive circling behavior.

In Conclusion: Why Do Dogs Walk in Circles Before They Die?

As dog parents, we always need to be alert and be on top of things before it takes. a worse turn.

If you feel that something is amiss, always choose to consult your vet rather than take chances.

Consider checking out other dog behavior articles on our blog such as:

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Zack Keithy
Zack Keithy

Hey, I'm Zack, the Chief Editor here. I was formerly a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) for a good 6 years before moving on to greener pastures. Right now, I am still heavily involved in dog parenting duties, and it is my desire to share all our knowledge with fellow dog owners out there! Connect with me on LinkedIn, or read more about Canine Care Central!

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