Do Dogs Walk in Circles Before they Die? – AnimalFYI (2023)

Dogs are often referred to as a ‘man’s best friend’ or something similar. The bond humans can build up with their dogs never ceases to amaze me. The downside to this is that dog owners tend to worry too much! This is a prime example. I have had some of my dog owner friends complaining that their dogs have been walking around in circles for no apparent reason. They often think this means their beloved pet is about to die. But do dogs really walk in a circle before they die? Let’s find out together.

Contents hide

1Do Dogs Walk Around in Circles Before they Die?


3How to Tell if a Dog May Die after Circling?

Before we start, I have another article you may be interested in that talks about whether dogs smell or not before they die. I figured if you are reading this article you may also have an interest in that.

Do Dogs Walk Around in Circles Before they Die?

It is entirely possible that a dog could walk around in circles before they die, but it is not the only reason they may walk around in circles. The common myth is that a dog is walking around in circles to find a comfortable place to lie down and die. This myth is not entirely true, in my opinion. It is more likely that your dog is in some kind of dis-comfort or distress. It is possible that this discomfort or distress could be due to a life-threatening condition, but it could equally be something simple that could easily be put right by a trip to your local veterinarian!

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Other Reasons Dogs Could Walk Around in Circles?

We have established that it is possible that your dog could walk around in circles before their death, but its not really as likely as you may think. With that out of the way, we can now talk about some of the other reasons that may cause a dog to walk around in circles.

Why Dogs May Walk around in circles. A Definitive List:

Vestibular System Problems

What is the vestibular system I hear you cry?? Unless you are a vet, or have been around dogs a lot, you probably have no idea what I am talking about.

The vestibular system in dogs includes a group of sensory organs that work together to maintain a dog’s body balance and to coordinate movement. Specifically, the vestibular system helps a dog maintain balance, navigate, and keep its head up, all without thinking about it.

When the vestibular system is healthy, a dog can walk, run, jump, and play while looking ahead rather than at the ground. When the vestibular system is unhealthy, a dog has a tendency to walk, run, and even stand with its head tilted to one side. These subtle misalignments affect a dog’s coordination and balance, which may lead to head tilt, circling, wobbliness, and other muscular issues.

So if your dog is making a habit of walking around in circles it could mean they have a problem with their vestibular system. If your dog is displaying signs of a head tilt too, this could well be worth looking into more.

Cognitive Disorder

Dogs can display signs of cognitive disorder similar to dementia in older humans. The most common disorder in dogs is dementia (the abnormal deterioration of intellectual functions), which is usually seen in 1-2% of the canine population. The breed most commonly affected by cognitive disorder is the Border collie, followed by other herding dogs, retrievers, and spaniels.According to the study, “Dogs, just like humans, may suffer from age-associated memory impairment”.

Dogs with cognitive disorders may appear disoriented or confused. When a dog’s sense of recognition is compromised, it stops acting as a normal pet, and when this happens to your pet, it may have difficulty performing domestic routine activities. Cognitive disorders include canine idiopathic epilepsy, cognitive dysfunction, dementia, senility, and canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. In dogs 5 years or older, the most common signs of cognitive disorders are a degradation of their memory, reducing their ability to remember things, which can negatively impact their ability to play and interact with family members.

Cognitive disorder can also be a reason that a dog may be seen walking around in circles.

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Discomfort or Distress

As alluded to above, dogs can also walk in circles due to discomfort or distress. Distress usually happens when something is happening out of the blue that confuses the dog. It’s basically a WTF moment for a dog 🙂 A great example of this is when there is a celebration around your house and someone is setting off fireworks. Of course, a dog probably has no idea what a firework is and why it makes such a loud noise. This type of out of the ordinary situation often causes distress in dogs. I know I have seen many dogs restless and walking in circles when fireworks being used in my neighborhood.

Discomfort is a slightly more complicated reason that a dog may be walking in circles, and therefore may be harder to diagnose. Usually, a dog could be in discomfort due to some kind of medical condition or ailment. The problem is, this could be very wide ranging from arthritis to ear infections or even seizures. These types of medical issues can be a common cause of dogs circling. In fact, ANY medical condition that could cause discomfort to your dog could be a reason for circling behavior.


This is a simple reason why a dog may be walking in circles, but I have seen it with my own eyes 🙂 Dogs have such an appetite that when they are hungry, they can seem restless and end up walking around in circles. It’s a simple fix, at least! Feed your hungry dog!

Need to Poop

Another simple reason why a dog may walk in circles. I can remember growing up our pet dog was forbidden to poop in the house (for obvious reasons), and knew that he would be in trouble if he did so. However, sometimes he may need the toilet in between walks and want to go out to relieve himself. As a dog can’t open a door themselves, this can lead to anxiousness and restless pacing. Well, how would you feel if you had to ‘hold it in’ 🙂

How to Tell if a Dog May Die after Circling?

Now that you know all of the possible reasons may a dog may walk around in circles, I am sure you are now wondering how to work out when it may be a serious medical issue causing it.

The obvious reasons, such as needing to eat or go to the toilet, is easy to check and remedy. If the behavior stops afterwards, you know that was the main issue.

The main two root causes that may be hard for you to decipher are medical conditions and cognitive dysfunction. In reality, this is actually pretty simple when you know how. Cognitive issues are often due to an aging or senior dog, and they are permanent and repeatable behaviors. Whereas a medical condition is something new that has recently occurred. So if you notice that your dog has circling as a typical behavior, you probably have nothing to worry about. They are probably just getting old! However, if they don’t usually circle you may need to look into a possible medical issue. Look for other clues that your dog is in distress, such as unusual wining.

If you work out that your dog has a medical condition, naturally you should take them to see a vet. I would say if you are in any doubt about this, take them to see a vet anyway. Better to be safe than sorry, right? Although vets in my area can run up pretty big bills in a short time 🙂

To sum up, a circling dog is not always a dying dog, but it is a possibility. Hopefully, this article can help you decide which it is for your situation.

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What does it mean when a dog walks around in circles? ›

Unfortunately, a dog walking in circles (circling) is almost always a sign of forebrain dysfunction. Typical signs of forebrain dysfunction in dogs include: Circling – Your dog walks around its environment in a circle, unable to follow a straight path or turn in another direction.

How do dogs act when they are near death? ›

The last few days before your dog passes you may notice: extreme weight loss, a distant look in their eyes, a lack of interest in anything, restlessness or unusual stillness, a change in the way that your dog smells, and a changed temperament.

Why do dogs walk in circles before? ›

As it turns out, this circling practice is geared towards survival. "Turning in circles before lying down is an act of self-preservation in that the dog may innately know that he needs to position himself in a certain way to ward off an attack in the wild," notes Dr. Buzhardt.

What happens in a dog's final moments? ›

They will exhale their final breath.

Their body will actually appear to deflate slightly as the lungs empty. Their body will go completely limp. If still open, their eyes will have a blank stare.

How do you know if your dog has had a stroke? ›

The telltale signs that your dog experienced a stroke
  • Loss of balance.
  • Nausea or vomiting due to balance issues.
  • Wandering in circles.
  • Loss of body control.
  • Unusual eye movements, such as back and forth movement or loss of blink reflexes.
  • Head tilt.
  • Weakness on one side.
  • Seizures.
May 23, 2022

Why has my old dog gone blind and walks in circles? ›

If your dog is walking in circles, please see your vet right away. In senior dogs, circling is often due to canine vestibular disease or canine cognitive dysfunction (a.k.a dementia or Doggie Alzheimer's). My dog Cricket had canine cognitive dysfunction and showed many of the typical symptoms of that condition.

Do dogs pass away in their sleep? ›

Yes, some pets peacefully fall asleep and pass naturally on their own, but as in humans, such a peaceful death is rare.

Can dogs tell when death is near? ›

In fact, some dogs are specifically trained as Hospice Dogs to sit with and comfort those are dying. Do dogs understand what they're doing and why they're doing it? Probably not. However, due to their acute senses, dogs are able to pick up on the sounds and smells that are associated with oncoming death.

Do dogs know when they are near death? ›

This is the last and most heartbreaking of the main signs that a dog is dying. Some dogs will know their time is approaching and will look to their people for comfort.

Can dogs smell their owners from 11 miles away? ›

How far a dog smells depends on conditions such as wind and type of scent, but they have been reported to smell objects and people over 12 miles away. Dogs' olfactory systems work so well that they can be trained to pick up odors as little as a pictogram which is a trillionth of a gram.

How do you know if your dog is crying for help? ›

Wincing, Whining or Crying

All three of these actions indicate an injury or some kind of pain your dog is experiencing. If you start to pet your dog and they shy away from your hand or whine, you know there is something wrong. Your pet might need x-rays and a full examination to determine the cause.

Why does my dog follow me everywhere? ›

If your dog follows you everywhere then it's a sign that they trust and love you and that you make them feel safe. Following you very closely can be a sign that they're bored, they want something, they're feeling scared or are just being nosy.

What is the last sense to go in a dog? ›

Puppies are born deaf, and this is the last of their senses to fully develop.

What are the last stages of a dog? ›

Be sure to tell them if you're noticing the following signs, which could mean your dog's time is nearing an end:
  • Pain and discomfort. ...
  • Loss of appetite. ...
  • Weight loss. ...
  • Vomiting. ...
  • Diarrhea. ...
  • Incontinence. ...
  • Body odor. ...
  • Dull eyes.

What is the last sense to leave a dog? ›

Many dogs will suffer for hours or even days before they die. 4. When humans die, the sense of sight is the first to go and hearing is the last. The same is thought to be true for dogs.

How do dogs act after a stroke? ›

In the case of a stroke, your pet's brain sends incorrect signals to their body. For example, your pet may not be able to respond to your spoken directions. Instead, he may move in a directionless fashion and seem to be walking in circles. He may appear as though he is drunk and be unable to walk in a straight line.

How do you know if your dog died from a stroke? ›

Signs of a Stroke
  • Loss of balance.
  • Head tilt.
  • Pacing, circling, or turning the wrong way when called.
  • Abnormal eye movements or facial expressions.
  • Impaired vision.
  • Loss of control over bladder and bowels.
  • Vomiting.
  • Collapse, loss of consciousness.
May 31, 2019

How long does a stroke last in a dog? ›

Although there is no specific treatment for strokes in dogs and cats, most pets tend to recover within a few weeks. However, recovery may not be possible if the stroke has affected a vital part of the brain.

What are the final stages of dementia in dogs? ›

Pacing, anxiousness, movement that doesn't seem purposeful, disorientation. Staring for long periods of time, getting lost in corners, standing on the wrong side of a door waiting for it to open, unable to figure out the next step, acting dazed, seeming to be lost in familiar places.

How do you know when to put your dog down? ›

Persistent and incurable inability to eat, vomiting, signs of pain, distress or discomfort, or difficulty in breathing are all indications that euthanasia should be considered. You and your family know your dog better than anyone else, so try to make a reasoned judgement on his or her quality of life.

How can you tell if a senior dog is blind? ›

Some common signs of a dog going blind may include:
  1. Cloudy eyes.
  2. White spots on the eyes.
  3. Bumping into things.
  4. Hesitation when navigating obstacles such as stairs or when in new places.
  5. Anxiety when in new environments.
  6. Avoidance of stairs.
  7. No longer jumping on/off furniture.
  8. Redness and swelling on or around the eyes.
Feb 9, 2021

What is most common cause of death in dogs? ›

Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs, and unfortunately, the symptoms are frequently not recognized until it is too late.

What are reasons to put a dog down? ›

When to Put a Dog or Cat Down: Things to Consider
  • Terminal Disease. ...
  • Uncontrolled Pain or Loss of Mobility. ...
  • Untreatable Aggression or Behavioral Disease. ...
  • More Bad Days Than Good Days.
Sep 18, 2020

What happens when a dog dies? ›

Once you're sure your dog has passed, the next step is to call your veterinarian's office. A vet's office will take your dog's body and either dispose of it for you or store it for you before you have a cremation or burial. They might also know of resources like a pet crematory or a mobile vet service.

What do dogs feel when euthanized? ›

As the solution is injected, the animal loses consciousness and within minutes the heart and lungs stop functioning. Since the pet is not conscious, they do not feel anything. Most times, the animal passes away so smoothly, that it is difficult to tell until the veterinarian listens for absence of a heartbeat.

Do dogs know you love them? ›

Yes, your dog knows how much you love him! Dogs and humans have a very special relationship, where dogs have hijacked the human oxytocin bonding pathway normally reserved for our babies. When you stare at your dog, both your oxytocin levels go up, the same as when you pet them and play with them.

Do dogs know when they are being put to sleep? ›

Dogs do not know they are being put to sleep, but they can react to underlying pain when being handled by the vet, sense nervous energy, react to the injection, involuntarily vocalize, or have muscle spasms.

Why did my dog howl before he died? ›

To communicate their discomfort

Even those that die of natural causes feel some kind of body aching as they pass away. Howling is a way of your doggie telling you she's not okay.

Do dogs know when you kiss them? ›

Really, the first question to ask is whether dogs understand kisses from people. It turns out that while dogs are pretty good at recognizing human emotions, they don't instinctively know what kisses are.

How far can dogs smell their owner? ›

How far dogs can smell depends on many things, such as the wind and the type of scent. Under perfect conditions, they have been reported to smell objects or people as far as 20km away.

How long can a dog remember you? ›

A dog can remember someone his entire life.

It's safe to say that your dog will not forget you after two weeks, a month, or even if you are gone for many years.

How far away can a dog hear? ›

Where you might be able to hear something roughly 50-100 feet away, you dog can hear something as far away as a quarter of a mile, sometimes even farther. Dog's ears are also built in a formation that helps them receive sound waves more clearly than humans.

What are the three warning signs that your dog needs help? ›

So, how can you deftly navigate your way through the world of canine communication? Generally, there are three primary ways that you can tell when a dog needs your help: physiological changes, behavioral changes, and signs of pain or discomfort.

What are the 3 ways your dog asks for help? ›

6 Ways Your Dog Asks For Help
  • Pacing. Pacing is typically a sign of anxiety or stress. ...
  • Whining. Some dogs whine more than others. ...
  • Destructive Behavior. ...
  • Excessive Clinginess/Shyness. ...
  • Abnormal Agression. ...
  • 10 Causes of Excessive Thirst in Dogs (Polydipsia) ...
  • 10 Causes of Excessive Thirst in Dogs (Polydipsia)
Jun 1, 2020

How do dogs ask for forgiveness? ›

One of the common ways your dog will try to say sorry is by making “puppy eyes” or tucking its tail between its legs. Avoiding eye contact and lowering their ears are also common ways for dogs to apologize. They also watch for your reaction.

Why dogs follow you to the bathroom? ›

If your dog follows you into the bathroom, it's likely a result of their animal instinct and pack mentality. Canines who do this are referred to as “Velcro dogs,” due to their desire to be attached to your side. They may follow you around, even to the bathroom, to protect a part of their pack.

Do dogs have memories? ›

The researchers concluded that the dogs were using episodic-like memory to repeat their owner's actions, even an hour after they first observed them. This suggests that dogs are doing way more than living in the moment. They are forming memories all the time and are able to recall them when needed.

Why do dogs stare at you? ›

Just as humans stare into the eyes of someone they adore, dogs will stare at their owners to express affection. In fact, mutual staring between humans and dogs releases oxytocin, known as the love hormone. This chemical plays an important role in bonding and boosts feelings of love and trust.

How do you say goodbye to your dog? ›

Give them all the things they enjoy most – their favourite toys, their favourite food. You know what will make your pet feel most at ease in the time that remains. If you become tearful, ask a family member, friend or other trusted person to take care of your pet so you can leave the room and have a cry.

Can dogs sense the after life? ›

With the minimal research experiments that have been done, pet psychologist Marty Miller suggests dogs can sense spirits because they are able to detect slight changes in the atmosphere, which likely happens when there is a spirit or other supernatural entity present.

What is end stage heart failure in dogs? ›

Stage 4: CHF is in its final stage. Breathing becomes difficult even when at rest. Fluid can accumulate in various parts of the body, causing swollen legs or belly, making it difficult to walk. It can even cause vomiting.

Why is my dog walking in circles? ›

Unfortunately, a dog walking in circles (circling) is almost always a sign of forebrain dysfunction. Typical signs of forebrain dysfunction in dogs include: Circling – Your dog walks around its environment in a circle, unable to follow a straight path or turn in another direction.

What happens in the last hours of a dog's life? ›

Near the end, breaths may even come minutes apart after the dog loses consciousness. Heartbeat slows - The heart rate grows ever slower as the muscle loses the ability to function. Muscle spasms and twitching - reflexes and the sensation of pain will decrease. Skin will be dry and appear pale due to dehydration.

Should you say goodbye to your dog? ›

That's why many people sneak off without saying goodbye to their pups, worried that the moment will only cause more stress. But according to science, not acknowledging your dog might do more harm than help.

Why is my dog running in circles and acting weird? ›

Zoomies often feature frantic, repetitive behavior such as running in circles or spinning around. A frequent cause of zoomies is an excess buildup of energy that dogs hold on to, which is then released in one big burst.

What are the symptoms of dementia in dogs? ›

Below are the most common symptoms of dog dementia:
  • Disorientation and confusion – Appearing lost or confused in familiar surroundings.
  • Anxiety.
  • Failing to remember routines and previously learned training or house rules.
  • No longer responding to their name or familiar commands.
  • Extreme irritability.
  • Decreased desire to play.
Mar 20, 2022

Why is my dog pacing and won't lie down? ›

The most common reasons your dog may not be comfortable while lying down are joint pain, anxiety, dementia, pancreatitis, bloat and heart disease.

Why is my dog pacing around the house? ›

Pacing. When canines are pacing back and forth, it's a sign they can't settle down because something is stressing them. If this happens during mealtimes or for short periods, it might not be a big deal. But, noticing when your dog engages in this behavior can give you clues as to what is triggering their anxiety.

What are the warning signs your dog is crying for help? ›

Wincing, Whining or Crying

All three of these actions indicate an injury or some kind of pain your dog is experiencing. If you start to pet your dog and they shy away from your hand or whine, you know there is something wrong. Your pet might need x-rays and a full examination to determine the cause.

Why is my dog wobbly and off balance all of a sudden? ›

Potential causes include inner/middle ear infections, intoxication, strokes, tumors, infectious or inflammatory diseases (meningitis), idiopathic vestibular disease (also called “old dog” vestibular syndrome), or other less likely causes.

Is 17 old for a dog? ›

The aging profile of dogs varies according to their adult size (often determined by their breed): smaller dogs often live over 15–20 years, medium and large size dogs typically 10 to 20 years, and some giant dog breeds such as mastiffs, often only 7 to 8 years.

What dog breeds are prone to dementia? ›

There are no specific dog breeds prone to dementia—any dog could develop it. However, smaller dog breeds can have a higher risk of developing dementia, but this can partially be attributed to the fact that they, on average, live longer than larger breed dogs.

Should you keep a dog with dementia alive? ›

It doesn't always have to be a question of dog dementia and when to put down the dog because there are ways of treating the symptoms and stabilising the condition rather than taking giant steps. The vet may well prescribe some medications which can be helpful for the dementia in its early stages.

What is dog Sundowning? ›

Dogs and people with dementia often suffer from disturbances in their sleep-wake cycles. Those affected by "sundowning" sleep more during the day and remain awake, disoriented, and agitated throughout the night.

Why is my old dog suddenly pacing? ›

Cognitive decline – As in humans, cognitive function tends to worsen as dogs age. Confusion, anxiety, and sleep disturbances increase as cognitive abilities decrease, which can lead to pacing, particularly at night. Pacing is one of the repetitive behaviors common in cognitive issues.

What does pacing look like in dogs? ›

“When a dog paces they are usually walking back and forth from one spot to another,” says Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM. “Sometimes they will just be walking around the house without a destination in mind.” Dogs might pace while waiting for someone or something — like for a family member to come home or waiting for mealtime.

What are the signs of pain in dogs? ›

What are the typical signs of pain in dogs? General behaviour: Shaking, flattened ears, low posture, aggression, grumpy temperament, panting or crying, excessive licking or scratching a specific area, reluctant to play, interact or exercise, lameness (limping), stiffness after rest, loss of appetite.

Why does my dog stare at me? ›

Just as humans stare into the eyes of someone they adore, dogs will stare at their owners to express affection. In fact, mutual staring between humans and dogs releases oxytocin, known as the love hormone. This chemical plays an important role in bonding and boosts feelings of love and trust.


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