What Medical Conditions Could Cause my Dog to Walk in Circles?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus
Pair of smooth-haired Dachshund puppies.
Pair of smooth-haired Dachshund puppies.

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.

Normal Behavior

Beagles are prone to systemic lupus erythematosus, which can cause dogs to walk in circles.
Beagles are prone to systemic lupus erythematosus, which can cause dogs to walk in circles.

Walking in circles before lying down to sleep is quite uncommon, but some dogs will do this. It seems to be instinctive behavior; dogs in the wild may circle around to check, by sight and smell, if there are any predators around. They may also trample down the vegetation to create a suitable resting place. Alternatively, they may just be selecting the most comfortable position in which to lie.

A dog.
A dog.

It is more common for dogs to walk in circles before defecating. The reasons for this are unclear, although there are a number of theories. As with the pre-sleeping routine, the animal may be checking for predators, as it is vulnerable at these times, or it may relate to trampling down tall vegetation for cleanliness. Dogs also use body products for communication with others of their kind, so the animal may be checking if any other dogs have been around this spot.

Abnormal Behavior

Poodles are highly susceptible to SLE, a disease that can cause the dog to walk in circles.
Poodles are highly susceptible to SLE, a disease that can cause the dog to walk in circles.

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.

Veterinarians recommend dogs get vaccinated for distemper at an early age.
Veterinarians recommend dogs get vaccinated for distemper at an early age.

These tests may provide some useful information, but the dog should be taken to a veterinarian whatever the outcome, so that the problem can be investigated. If it is not neurological in nature, an inner ear infection is probably the most likely cause. This can be treated with antibiotics. If no obvious cause can be established, a dog behaviorist may be able to help. If the symptom seems to be neurological in origin, this is much more serious, and could have a number of possible causes.


Neosporosis is a potentially deadly disease spread by parasites that are found in some raw meats, and in the feces of infected animals. The parasite is killed by high temperatures and by freezing; however, it is never a good idea to give a dog raw meat of any kind, even if it has been frozen first. The disease can also be transmitted by the dog eating or drinking anything that has been contaminated by infected feces.

Symptoms of neosporosis include the dog beginning to walk in circles and the head drooping to one side. The dog may collapse after walking as neosporosis affects the muscles and spinal cord. Neosporosis can cause brain damage, paralysis and death. The disease is difficult to treat, as the parasite forms highly resistant cysts, but some antibiotics may be effective, if given promptly.

Canine Distemper

Another disease that can cause walking in circles and collapse is canine distemper. It is caused by a virus, and usually starts with a respiratory and lung infection. The later stage often causes neurological damage that results in paralysis, muscle twitches and a tendency to walk around in circles.

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.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

SLE is a type of autoimmune condition that has a whole body effect and can cause arthritis and muscle weakness as well as many other symptoms such as fever and kidney disease. It can be a difficult disease to diagnose, as it may seem like many other conditions. A veterinarian can make a diagnosis by using a blood test.

Early signs of SLE include paralysis and a limp in addition to suddenly starting to walk in circles. The condition is often made worse by sunlight exposure. The breeds thought to be most susceptible to SLE due to a genetic predisposition include the German shepherd, Shetland sheepdog, collie, poodle, beagle, Afghan hound and Irish setter. The disease is usually treated with drugs that suppress the immune system, but this can leave the dog more susceptible to infections.

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Discussion Comments


Some dogs are born with a slight brain irregularity that causes them to walk in circles their entire life when excited. 90% circle to the left...probably a right handed dog and a right brain malfunction. In 50 years I have encountered 1 right circling dog and numerous left circles. They live a normal life other than their circling habit.


Walking or running in circles is a sign of unresolved anxiety/stress.


I had my small cross puppy for 19 years. He started to go blind, was walking round in circles and having fits. I knew I had to help him and putting him down was the best thing for him and the hardest thing I ever had to do. I hope no one ever has to do this. Also another sign, is the dog drinking a lot of water and sometimes crying because he can't settle down.


My dog has vestibular disorder. He has a dizzy, drunken walk and walks in circles because of the head tilt - maybe look into that if your dog has the same symptoms.


My dog has started walking in circles and has started to limp. She does have renal failure so I think it's just a symptom of that. I have been treating her with crf oil for the kidney failure for nearly two years now. I can recommend it.


My 16.5 year old cockapoo has been walking in circles for about three months. She will walk straight when on a leash. She is blind and deaf. The vet said that she has doggie dementia. It's hard to watch her. It even affects her when she tries to eat.


My 8 year old Siberian Husky suddenly woke up walking in circles, even while going down three steps to go outside. He went down and back up to complete circle. The vet gave him a steroid shot and a week of antibiotics and he did it less often, but started yelping when he lies down occasionally. I know something's wrong, but I'm unsure what it is.


My 16 year old dog started walking around in circles, getting stuck in corners, and doesn't seem to want contact with the family. He has been diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. A week ago I started giving him Neutricks which is supposed to help this condition, but I haven't seen any results as yet. If anyone has used this supplement, maybe we could share our experiences? I'm hoping and praying that my dog gets well soon.


My 18 month old chihuahua started circling left, her left eye has gone squint and left ear droopy. The MRI scan of her brain was clear, the lumbar puncture was clear and the vets are still none the wiser as to what is wrong with her. Please help as it's breaking my heart.


My sister has a 19-year old wire haired terrier. He only has one eye, as his other eye got infected and basically just died. He is left with a sunken in black hole. He is deaf and his tongue has always been way too big for his mouth, so it hangs out all the time.

He will get up from sleeping and go in circles until you touch him or pick him up. Sometimes, he will stop, but you can tell he is dizzy because his head wobbles back and forth. He is very sensitive. When we go to pet him, he flinches badly. He runs into walls, table legs, chair legs, etc. He also sleeps all day, then wanders aimlessly around at night howling.

I have "dog-sat" for her and she didn't warn me about the howling all night long. He has no teeth, so the vet told her to feed him shredded chicken only. When he finds it, he kind of grabs it sideways the way an alligator or crocodile does, then just jerks his head back until he gets it down his throat. It is so pathetically painful to watch him, but she refuses to put him down. She says he is not in pain.

When he howls, I feel he is saying "I can't do this anymore! Please put me out of my misery!" We looked up his behavior online, and discovered that he most likely has dementia, as well. It is so sad to watch. My sister and her husband tried for years to have children, but they could never get pregnant. He has been with her since before they were married, and she says that he is her baby.


@burcinc-- I used to volunteer at a veterinarian's office and I remember we had several patients there that would walk in circles. One had an inner ear problem and so he was losing his balance while walking and would end up going in circles. He was treated with some ear drops.

The other case was really sad. This dog had diabetes but the owners had no idea. His blood sugar went up too high and it caused him to go blind. So he would go in circles because he had no idea where he was going. Really sad.


I have taken my dog to three different vets, none of them found anything wrong. But he still walks in circles, why?!


Wow, these illnesses sound horrible. I hope no dog ever has to deal with them.

Sometimes my dog will circle around while playing. She also does it before she sits and before she goes to the restroom. I was wondering if there was something abnormal in it, but from what I understand all of this is normal.

If there was a medical condition, there would be more symptoms but there are none. She's a very happy girl.


My dog is 15 years old. She's been walking in circles for few months. My vet says it's old age and she probably doesn't even know that she's even doing it. She was also diagnosed with renal kidney disease. If there is someone out there who can give me info on this, it will be greatly appreciated.

I know her time is almost up, but I bottle raised her and we have been together all her life. I don't want to do the unthinkable. Please help me.


My dog started walking in circles and cries when she tries to lie down, too. She also cries out when we are not near. What can be done?


My dog is walking in circles with his tail tucked down and he hollers out when he tries to lie down. Sometimes he cries out when you aren't near him. What could it be and what can be done?


@ Glasshouse- I wonder if hereditary tail chasing is due to inbreeding. I know that bull terriers are a breed prone to inbreeding. I read that it is suspected the slope of their face was created through years of inbreeding. I also read that tail chasing is more common in purebred animals, also pointing to the possibility of inbreeding. Does anyone know the relationship between inbreeding and tail chasing?


Some breeds are more likely to walk in circles or chase their tails than others. This behavior is common in bull terriers, and the National Institute of Health (NIH) has concluded that it may be hereditary. According to the NIH, the cause of tail chasing may be due to zinc malabsorption.

Hereditary tail chasing can be quite sad, causing the dog to eventually go crazy, and become aggressive. In the worst cases, the owner must euthanize the dog.

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    • Pair of smooth-haired Dachshund puppies.
      Pair of smooth-haired Dachshund puppies.
    • Beagles are prone to systemic lupus erythematosus, which can cause dogs to walk in circles.
      Beagles are prone to systemic lupus erythematosus, which can cause dogs to walk in circles.
    • A dog.
      A dog.
    • Poodles are highly susceptible to SLE, a disease that can cause the dog to walk in circles.
      Poodles are highly susceptible to SLE, a disease that can cause the dog to walk in circles.
    • Veterinarians recommend dogs get vaccinated for distemper at an early age.
      Veterinarians recommend dogs get vaccinated for distemper at an early age.