Do Dogs Walk in Circles Before they Die?

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.

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!

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.

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.