Dogs are notorious for their unusual personalities and quirky habits. But where is the border between a unique personality trait and a symptom of an underlying medical issue? For example, walking in circles – is it normal or not?
Why does my dog walk in circles around me? A dog walking in circles can be a sign of several things – from quirky personality through unresolved behavioral issues to physical medical problems. Since there are a number of conditions that can cause the behavior, it is best advised to contact your trusted veterinarian as soon as you notice changes in your dog’s walking pattern.
In this article, we will talk about why dogs walk in circles. We will review both the physical and behavioral issues causing this behavior. We will also explain what walking in circles means in different situations and give tips on how to stop the behavior when it becomes exaggerated.
WHY DOES MY DOG WALK IN CIRCLES AROUND ME WHEN EXCITED?
Excitement is the most common reason why dogs circle around their owners. This is particularly true after dogs see their owners after a while – returning from work or a trip. Seeing the owner is a good reason to be excited, and from a dog’s point of view, it means spending more time together.
A dog can also start circling around its owner if the owner grabs the car keys or the dog leash in which the activity indicates a potentially exciting trip to the dog’s park or a walk around the block.
Dogs prone to hyperactivity are more likely to excessively circle around their owners when overwhelmed with positive feelings. In most cases, this is a benign habit. However, if the circling becomes excessive to the point the dog has trouble calming down, it is advisable to seek a suitable solution. For example, a good way of managing a hyper dog is through calming chews and supplements.
Finally, it should be noted that circling in the excitement in some breeds can be due to herding instincts. Dogs bred for herding purposes are true to their heritage and will herd anyone out of fun, including their owners. This can be funny at first, but the herding can quickly evolve into gentle nipping.
WHY DOES MY DOG CIRCLE AROUND ME WHEN WALKING?
If you and your dog are calmly walking in the park and suddenly your dog starts walking around in circles, there are two options – amusement and anxiety. In the first case, some dogs are extra happy and excited when spending quality outdoor time with their favorite humans. Plus, if the environment is stimulating and unusual, it can trigger unusual behaviors, including walking in circles.
In the second case, some dogs can find unknown environments and situations stressful and exhibit walking in circles as a coping mechanism. It is a well-known fact that dogs prone to anxiety find relief in repetitive actions and activities with set patterns. If your dog is feeling anxious, it is critical that you identify the exact stressor and either eliminate it or find a way to minimize the exposure.
WHY IS MY SENIOR DOG WALKING IN CIRCLES?
Senior dogs, pretty much like senior people, are prone to age-specific conditions. Therefore, when an older dog starts walking in circles, you should be looking for some specific issues like anxiety and cognitive dysfunction.
Namely, as dogs age, their cognitive abilities decline, causing an Alzheimer’s-like condition called canine cognitive dysfunction. The condition makes dogs more prone to anxiety and confusion. These feelings stem from the dog’s increased likelihood of being forgetful and feeling disoriented in otherwise familiar environments.
A senior dog walking in circles is likely to perform the activity due to anxiety, in which case the pattern serves as a coping mechanism, or due to canine cognitive function, in which case the dog is simply unaware of what it is doing.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN A DOG CIRCLES A STRANGER?
Dogs are naturally curious creatures and are likely to feel intrigued upon seeing a stranger. Depending on the breed and personality, some dogs respond to strangers by lunging at them and acting up, while others are more reserved but will circle around them to gather as much information as possible about the stranger.
If you are not sure how your dog reacts around strangers, it is best to keep control in such situations and keep your dog leashed when making introductions with new people.
WHY DOES MY DOG CIRCLE MY CHILD?
Dogs that are fond of children are more likely to circle around them than dogs with a genuine dislike of kids. If your dog is circling around your child, there are several options. First, your dog is excited and wants to interact with the kid. Second, the dog is trying to get the kid’s attention and engage in fun playtime. Third, your dog might be trying to herd your children.
As mentioned, herding people is common in certain herding breeds. Interestingly, herding dogs are more likely to express their natural instincts towards children than adults.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN A DOG CIRCLES BEFORE IT SITS?
This is a rather interesting question. If you are a dog parent, you have probably noticed your dog making a few circles before it sits down or finds a good sleeping position. This is a remnant of the dog’s wild ancestral days when it had to sleep on the ground and usually on uncomfortable surfaces.
Namely, the circling is a way of tapping the ground and making it smoother and more pleasant to spend time on. Modern dogs sleep on human-grade mattresses and dog beds, but they still feel naturally inclined to make a few circles before settling down. In simple words, when a dog circles before it sits, it is literally trying to make the sleeping are more comfortable.
WHICH MEDICAL CONDITIONS CAN MAKE MY DOG WALK IN CIRCLES?
Walking in circles is not always a normal or anxiety-related behavior. Sometimes, the issue can be caused by an underlying neurological abnormality, thus warranting further veterinary investigation.
Walking in circles can be triggered by brain damage or abnormalities in the regular brain chemistry. Dog owners can perform simple tests to rule out these brain-related culprits. For example, if interrupting the dog’s walking in circle results in changes in the behavior, it is safe to assume there are no brain injuries and damage.
On the other hand, if the walking in circles persists despite the owner’s efforts to distract the dog or if the dog shows additional neurological issues like rapid eye movements and inability to focus the eyes, there is a big chance of head trauma or other brain problem.
These tests are good preliminary checkups and can provide helpful information. However, a dog showing changes in the standard walking patterns needs to be examined by a vet. The vet will first check the dog’s ears as ear infections can often mimic the signs and symptoms of neurological conditions. The vet will also try to determine the possible behavioral component.
Ultimately, the vet will perform a neurological examination. This is considered to be the last resort since neurological conditions usually have severe consequences and are hard to manage.
Here is a short description of the top three possible neurological causes for walking in circles.
Cause number 1: Neosporosis
Neosporosis is a potentially lethal condition caused by parasites found in certain types of raw meats. The parasites can also be found in the feces of infected dogs. Extremely high and low temperatures (thorough cooking and freezing) can kill the parasite.
Since many dog parents choose to feed their pets raw diets, raw meats are the primary source of neosporosis infection. Dogs can often get neosporosis by eating infected feces or drinking from contaminated water bowls.
The first signs indicating neosporosis infections in dogs are walking in circles and dragging the head dropped to one side. As the infection progresses and starts affecting the muscles and spinal cord, the dog will start collapsing after making a few steps.
Over time, neosporosis causes severe brain damage followed by paralysis and, worst-case scenario – death. Neosporosis is extremely difficult to treat because the parasite tends to form cysts that are highly resistant. When caught early, the infection can be managed using a combination of several potent broad-spectrum antibiotics.
Cause number 2: Canine distemper
The second potential culprit behind the circle walking is canine distemper. Canine distemper is a viral condition and is prevalent among young and non-vaccinated puppies. In the early phases, the virus attacks the lungs and causes respiratory tract infections.
As the disease progresses, it affects the brain triggering neurological damage that manifests in the form of paralysis, muscular twitching, and walking in circles. A dog with canine distemper will have nasal discharge, cough and frequently sneeze, appear to lack coordination, and drink excess amounts of water. Aggression and extreme lethargy are also possible.
Dogs usually get the virus through contact with other infected dogs or items used by infected dogs. Since the virus is easily transmittable to body fluids, managing the spread is hard. Therefore, all efforts should be focused on preventing the disease through prompt and regular vaccination.
As with most viral diseases, there is no suitable and completely efficient treatment. However, based on the dog’s general health status and the adequacy and promptness of the supportive care, it is possible for some dogs to recover.
Cause number 3: Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that affects several body systems and organs, causing arthritis, general muscle weakness, kidney problems, and fever. SLE does not cause specific clinical issues making the diagnosis rather challenging and impossible without specialized tests at the vet’s office.
The early signs of SLE include sudden paralysis and limping, which often evolves into changes in the walking pattern or, better said, walking in circles. For unknown reasons, the clinical manifestation tends to worsen after sunlight exposure.
Certain dog breeds are genetically predisposed to developing SLE. Such breeds include Shetland sheepdogs, German Shepherds, Afghan hounds, Collies, Beagles, and Poodles.
SLE can be successfully managed using immunosuppressive drugs. However, prolonged usage of such medications decreases the dog’s immune responses making it more susceptible to infections and infectious diseases.
SUMMING UP: DOGS WALKING IN CIRCLES
A dog walking in circles can mean a lot of things – from quirky yet cute personalities to serious behavioral issues like anxiety and hyperactivity. However, it is also possible that walking in circles is caused by underlying physical problems like brain injuries, ear conditions, and infectious diseases.
Determining the cause of your dog’s walking in circles is impossible without the vet’s help. The vet will perform a thorough physical examination. If the vet rules out the presence of a physical problem, he/she will recommend seeing a canine behaviorist. On the other hand, if it turns out there is a physical problem, the vet will suggest the right treatment.