Dog Walking In Circles: Causes and What to Do

Dog Walking in Circles

A dog normally does not walk around in circles except for a few that do so momentarily before pooping or urinating. A dog can also walk in circles after catching the scent of another dog or animal in a bid to not lose it. Constant dog circling, more so for none of the reasons mentioned above, is often a sign of an underlying health problem and warrants the attention of your vet. Read on to discover some of the reasons for dog walking in circles and appropriate treatment measures.

Cause and Treatments for Dog Walking In Circles

Dog walking in circles can be due to one or more of the reasons listed below:

Vestibular Syndrome

Dogs’ vestibular system helps them to maintain their balance and orientation as well as movement. This is a complex sensory system that originates in the dogs’ inner ear. A dysfunction of the vestibular system, a condition referred to as Vestibular syndrome or vestibular disorder, often manifests in your dog walking in circles. The condition tends to affect older dogs more.

In addition to your dog circling, you may observe other symptoms such as:

  • Head tilting
  • Walking with the head down
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Drooling
  • Side-to-side flicking of the eyes
  • Falling down constantly
  • Stumbling, uncoordinated movement (ataxia)

These symptoms appear abruptly and are often confused for a stroke.

The exact cause of the vestibular disorder is not yet known but the following factors are thought to play a role in the development of the condition and the associated symptoms such as dog walking in circles:

  • Ear damage e.g. due to an injury
  • Brain injury and diseases
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Abnormal growth of tissues, also known as Neoplasia
  • Nutritional deficiencies with deficiency of thiamine taking the lead
  • Use of and presence of toxic substances in the ear e.g. some antibiotics
  • Infections of the upper respiratory tract
  • Inner or central ear inflammation. This can, for example, happen as a result of bacterial infection.

Treatment Approach for Dog Walking In Circles Due To Vestibular Disease

Once your vet determines that vestibular disease is the reason why your dog is walking in circles, he or she will determine the appropriate treatment measure. Treatment approaches vary depending on the underlying cause of the problem. Support is also typically given for secondary symptoms such as nausea, dehydration, and vomiting.

Inner Ear Infection

Ear infection is also among the top causes of dog walking in circles and falling over. Other than dog circling, an ear infection is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Inability to focus the eyes (leading to constant left-right flicking)
  • Head shaking
  • Ear scratching
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Discharge from the affected ear
  • Offensive smell

Without proper treatment, ear infections can progress to deeper parts of the ear or worse not to mention lead to other complications such as meningitis, says the WebMD. For that reason, you should never ignore it if you think ear infection is responsible for your dog walking in circles. Take your canine friend to the vet right away.

Treatment of inner ear infection typically involves professional cleaning along with medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, etc. Surgery may also be performed for chronic and more severe cases.


Dog walking in circles may also be a sign of an injury, in particular, a head trauma. Although it is usually difficult to tell when your dog is in pain due to certain evolutionary habits typical to dogs such as hiding when sick or in pain, tail wagging etc., coupled with their inability to tell you when in pain, you can always watch for telltale signs. These include:

  • Whining when you touch certain parts of the body.
  • Loss of appetite: is your dog not eating normally?
  • Heavy panting
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Pupil dilation
  • Unusual eye focuses i.e. your dog’s eyes focusing at abnormally slow speed e.g. when you direct her vision to a target.

You should take your dog to the vet right away if circling is observed and your area aware of a recent head trauma. Treatment of head trauma is more difficult and typically involves a series of tests (for proper diagnosis) and treatments.

Unusual Behavior

In some case, your vet will not be able to pinpoint any underlying medical reasons for dog walking in circles. This is usually indicative of an unusual acquired behavior or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (ODD) if you like. If that is the case, a dog behaviorist may be able to help your puppy overcome the behavior using a behavior modification therapy program.


According to the WebMD, stroke can also explain dog walking in circles along with a loss of balance, which manifests in constant falling down. Strokes are nevertheless very rare in dogs. When they occur, the underlying factors usually include head trauma, high blood pressure, kidney disease, hemorrhage, blood clots, and sometimes migrating worms.

In addition to dog circling and falling down, stroke in dogs is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as head tilting, loss of vision and loss of balance.

If dog circling is determined to have a stroke underlying it, your veterinarian will give your dog appropriate care to treat it while preventing more strokes. The after effects of stroke also needs to be treated accordingly.

My Dog Is Walking Around In Circles, What Should I Do?

If your dog circles around before popping or urinating, or when chasing a scent, say another animal passing by, then it is no cause for concern. You should, however, be concerned if the circling is not due to any of these reasons, takes longer than a minute or so, or is repetitive.

With regards to what to do, your first course of action should be to try to distract the dog. Dog circling due to neurological problems such as vestibular syndrome usually involves one direction. The affected dog finds it difficult to turn to the other direction e.g. say from right to left. If the dog cannot break the pattern it is currently circling in, take it to your vet immediately for further evaluation and treatment.

Next, perform a neurological examination of the ears and eyes.

For the eyes watch out for:

  • Asymmetry: Be concerned if the pupils are equal in size. If not, this may be a sign of a neurological problem and a visit to your vet is recommended.
  • Ability to focus: Test your dog’s ability to focus by trying to make her vision focus on a certain point. If this happens at an unusually slower speed, take your dog to your vet.

For your dog’s ears:

  • Watch out for any signs of ear infections including discharge, redness, swelling, and unpleasant smell.

If none of the telltale signs of serious problems, chances are that your case of dog walking in circles is nothing serious. Still, you should be on the lookout. If the problem persists for more than a few days, it is advisable to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away just in case. You are better safe than sorry. If it is found that the observed dog circling is nothing but a behavioral issue, you should then talk to an animal behavior therapist.


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