Why Do Older Dogs Pace?

Older Labrador Retriever

You could set your clock by it. At 8 PM every evening my Millie would start pacing back and forth. Sometimes she’d stop and bark at me for no reason.

Pacing is a common behavior in older dogs and it can be stressful.

Why do older dogs pace? Well, there a number of reasons and as a good dog owner, naturally you need to know why.

Dogs Often Pace Because of Anxiety

Husky staring at camera with wide open eyes

There are several things that can cause anxiety in your dog.

  1. If they are old and you have moved to a new house, this can be upsetting to a dog as they try to understand their new world, through old dog sense. Give them a few days and they will learn their way around.
  2. Is there a new dog in the house that is driving them crazy? It may be time to separate the two until your dog recovers and is able to better adjust. The pup or new dog may need to learn his place in the pecking order of the house so your dog can learn to feel comfortable again.
  3. They have to go to the bathroom and you forgot to take them for their nightly walk. (Hey, it has happened to me before.)
  4. They want your attention. Sometimes dogs get bored and require a little more attention than you are giving them. Are you gone all day? Well, if so try spending some rub and play time when you come home every evening and the problem should go away.
  5. Geriatric separation. According to the ASPCA, older dogs may suffer anxiety separation disorder at night. The reason might be an undiagnosed disease so an examination by your dog’s veterinarian might be a good idea. There are medications that your dog’s vet can prescribe if it is merely mental and not a physical ailment. 

More Serious Reasons for Pacing May Include:

Senior dog with graying face in front of trees
  • Osteoarthritis and other joint problems can cause a lot of pain so they may pace in order to relieve the pain, albeit unsuccessfully.
  • A brain ailment consisting of a tumor or serious diseases.
  • Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. 

Senior Dog Dementia (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome) Symptoms

dark background with partial image of black dog face with gray around eyes.

As dogs get older, they are just as likely as us to suffer from dementia. According to the Spruce Pets dementia in dogs may have to do with depletion of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, but there is no understanding as to why this happens.

Another more probable cause may be a buildup of plaque or proteins in the way that disrupt nerve impulses in the brain.

The symptoms may appear slowly over time so it may be a good idea to keep a journal close by and write down anything they do that is out of the ordinary. This will help you to determine if a visit to the vet is necessary and will help in the evaluation process your vet needs to make.

But when is your dog suffering from this disease? Well, let’s take a look at a few symptoms that could determine if further evaluation is important.

  • Pacing or wandering around aimlessly
  • Walking in circles
  • Obvious anxiety
  • Soiling the house
  • Getting lost or seemingly lost in familiar places
  • Staring at walls or into space
  • Walking into things
  • Standing, facing a corner for no reason
  • Confusion
  • Not moving out of the way when they normally would
  • Barking for no reason at all
  • Does not respond to name

If your dog is showing a number of these symptoms then there is a good chance that he/she is suffering from CCDS/Dementia, so please be sure to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Sometimes in these situations people think about getting a puppy for their older dog. But a new dog can stress an older dog with dementia even more and make their symptoms worse. Often if the dog doesn’t have dementia this is a good idea, but for a dog with dementia, not so much.

Dealing with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Man with his forehead to the forehead of his dog.

Your veterinarian may have ideas on how to treat dementia but sadly, there is no cure as of yet.

In the meantime, there are ways that you can help your dog deal with dementia.

  1. According to Dogtime, Anipryl can help in relieving some of the forms of dementia by allowing prolonged dopamine activity in the brain witch helps cognitive function in dogs. It is not guaranteed to work on all dogs, but it’s a good place to start.
  2. Melatonin, coconut oil, omega 3s, cannabidiol, turmeric and other antioxidants can help relieve a variety of symptoms and even help with cognitive functions.
  3. Stick to a routine. This takes away anxiety and may help a lot.
  4. A brain workout can be had with Puzzle Toys. These toys encourage blood flow to the brain, which can help to remove plaque. If your dog becomes frustrated or anxious with the Puzzle Toy, then you may want to find another brain work out that will be easier.
  5. Keep your playtime and training time short and simple. Overloading them with stimulation may cause frustration, but enough of it should help to stave off the effects of dementia a bit.
  6. Walking is good as well. It gets the blood flowing and provides mild stimulation. But beware not to make it too strenuous. Doing so may cause much needed oxygen to be taken from the brain and redirected to muscles.

Dog Walks in Circles and is Disoriented

Dog with tail in mouth on white background

Sadly, this condition is one that should receive immediate medical attention. There are two reasons for this disturbing behavior.

  1. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome
  2. Canine Vestibular Disease

Having already talked about CCDS, let’s now talk about Canine Vestibular Disease, which is not life threatening but should be treated by a veterinarian. According to the VCA, it most common in older dogs.

Symptoms include;

  • Loss of balance
  • Disorientation
  • Head tilt
  • Falling down in direction of head tilt
  • Jerking eye movements

This condition obviously makes dogs reluctant to stand or walk and can be the most severe in the first 24 – 48 hours of the disease and may improve 72 hours after the onset. Stumbling and head tilt may improve in a 7 -10 day period. After two to three weeks most symptoms may have disappeared, and some may have a wobble when they walk or head tilt for life. Unfortunately, if the dog does not improve a more serious disorder may be the reason. Either way, you should take them to the veterinarian if they have any of the symptoms mentioned above.

Dog Dementia Panting and Other Excessive Panting

Senior dog laying in grass panting

Panting is normal for dogs, so this should be easy to understand. If there is something odd about your dog’s panting, then it could be a number of issues according to Orvis. Possible causes include;

  1. Heart Disease
  2. Cushing’s syndrome
  3. Respiratory illnesses
  4. Heat exhaustion

If your dog has not been running or hot than it is vital that you get your dog to the veterinarian to have it checked out as soon as possible.

The Bottom Line on Pacing in Older Dogs

Whatever reason your dog has for pacing, a soothing voice might help. Never scold your dog for pacing. There is always a reason, and by scolding them, you might create a worse situation by making your dog feel bad. And lastly, by all means, please take your dog to the vet if you think there is a possibility that his pacing might have an underlying health problem.

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Hi! My name is Heather Hallman. I’m the mother of two beautiful girls and a MAJOR passionate pet parent. I can hardly wait to bring you the BEST resources and information that I've found for our fur-babies.