My Dog Keeps Walking in Circles all of a Sudden

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There are very few instances when your dog walking in circles would be considered normal. “Some dogs may turn in place several times before they lie down or empty their bowels, but that is a learned behavior,” says Dr. Michael Reese, Veterinary Neurologist at Southeast Veterinary Neurology. If your dog has suddenly started walking in circles for no reason at all and try as it might, can’t seem to walk in a straight line, something is wrong.

dog walking in circles

Forebrain Dysfunction and Circling in Dogs

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.
  • Seizures – Forebrain dysfunction can cause seizures in your dog, resulting in loss of consciousness and convulsions.
  • Behavior Changes – Your dog’s personality has abruptly changed, and it may seem lost, withdrawn, irritable, etc.
  • Head Pressing – Your dog is compulsively pressing its head against a wall, corner, floor, or other firm surface.
  • Blindness – Forebrain dysfunction can even cause acute blindness.

“Brainstem disease can also cause circling in dogs, but the difference is that forebrain dogs tend to walk in circles around a room, while brainstem dogs tend to tightly circle in one place,” explains Dr. Reese.

4 Neurologic Reasons for Your Dog Walking in Circles

Conditions that can create problems in the brain range from traumatic brain injuries to metabolic disorders, but it is more likely that your dog is walking in circles due to a neurologic issue.

The most common neurologic causes of forebrain dysfunction and circling in dogs are:

Brain Tumor

A tumor is an abnormal growth of cells within tissue. This uncontrolled growth of cells creates masses that destroy healthy tissue. Therefore, a tumor in your dog’s forebrain will result in forebrain dysfunction and symptoms like walking in circles.


A stroke occurs either when blood flow to part of the brain is obstructed or when a blood vessel bursts, depriving nerve cells and their pathways of oxygen. So if the stroke occurs in your dog’s forebrain, it will cause forebrain dysfunction and symptoms like walking in circles.

Inflammation of the Brain

Brain inflammation is another potential reason for your dog walking in circles. It can occur in the brain itself (encephalitis), in the membranes surrounding the brain (meningitis), or a combination of the two (meningoencephalitis).

In addition to the signs of forebrain dysfunction discussed earlier, another likely symptom of brain inflammation in dogs is pain.


Hydrocephalus is brain swelling generally caused by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) buildup inside the brain. It can be acquired or congenital (present at birth), and certain breeds, like toy breeds, are predisposed.

In addition to your dog walking in circles and other forebrain dysfunction symptoms, Hydrocephalus can cause:

  • Domed skull, soft spot on head (persistent fontanelle), wide set eyes
  • Slow growth, small stature
  • Difficulty learning, eating, drinking, house training
dog being examined at SEVN

What to Do if Your Dog Is Walking in Circles

Circling can only be addressed by treating the underlying condition. If you witness your dog walking in circles, do not wait to see a veterinary professional. This is almost always a sign of a serious neurologic condition that is causing the forebrain to malfunction.

If your veterinarian suspects a brain problem, you will be referred to a veterinary neurologist for imaging of the brain. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is the best way to achieve an accurate diagnosis, determine the severity of the condition, establish treatment options, and predict prognosis.

Southeast Veterinary Neurology Can Help Your Dog Stop Walking in Circles

While prognosis depends on the underlying disease, there are treatment options for each of the conditions leading to your dog walking in circles. The sooner your dog receives treatment, the better the chance of a positive outcome.

Southeast Veterinary Neurology understands this. That’s why we are open for emergencies 24 hours a day. With three convenient South Florida locations in Miami, Boynton Beach and Jupiter, and another location in Virginia Beach, each complete with highly skilled neurology teams and state-of-the-art MRI suites, we are ready to get to the bottom of your dog walking in circles. So don’t wait, call any of our locations to request a consultation today.

Dr. Reese during procedure