Pacing is one of those behaviors that could spell serious trouble — or it could just mean that your dog is bored. The problem is knowing how to tell the difference.
Below, we’ll walk you through why dogs pace, as well as when you should start worrying.
What Is Pacing?
Just like humans, dogs sometimes pace, meaning that walk back and forth aimlessly, without a destination in mind.
They may travel from one end of the house to the other, but generally, they limit their pacing to a smaller area. They may go back and forth across your living room, in and out of their kennel, or even spin around in circles.
While they don’t have a clear destination, they’re often extremely focused on following the same path again and again. There’s little meandering; instead, they cover the same ground repeatedly. It’s an obsessive behavior.
They may continue pacing even if you try to stop them. Calling them, bribing them with treats, and even standing in their way may prove ineffective, as all they care about is following that same invisible path.
Why Do They Pace?
There are a variety of reasons that a dog might start pacing, ranging from the fairly benign to the extremely worrisome. It’s hard to say precisely why a dog is pacing without knowing what other factors are involved, but possibilities include the following.
If your dog starts pacing whenever you’re getting ready to leave, separation anxiety might be the cause. They may even seem panicked or distressed.
Other symptoms will often present themselves as well, such as panting, vocalizing, attempts to escape, and more.
Separation anxiety is relatively harmless, but it’s clearly not fun for your pet. There are a variety of ways to treat it, including doing desensitization training, arranging for someone to stay with your pup, or buying them their own pet.
It can take time and effort, but it’s worth it if it makes your dog’s life easier.
Just like a kid who’s been left inside too long, a dog might pace back and forth because they have nothing better to do. It can be just as annoying too.
Luckily, this is a problem that’s easy to solve (much easier than entertaining a bored kid). All you need to do is play with your dog or give them other mental stimulation.
A little bit of activity should be all it takes to break your dog of the pacing habit. Of course, this isn’t a permanent solution, but it’s one that should be fun for both of you.
Force of Habit
Some dogs simply get in the habit of pacing back and forth, especially those that spend a great deal of time patrolling their backyards.
This behavior carries over when they’re inside too. They take it on themselves to act as your security system, so they have to walk from one end of the house to the other to make sure everything is fine.
To curb this behavior, limit the amount of time that they spend in the backyard alone. Also, you can offer them physical or mental stimulation as a distraction.
Searching for a Mate
If a dog hasn’t been fixed, they may become restlessness as they feel the need to search for a mate.
It’s especially prominent with females in heat, but it can also happen with unaltered males if they smell a lady in the area. If you suspect that this may be the cause, be careful about letting your dog outside, as they may become escape artists, causing you to lose them (or possibly become a grandparent).
The best way to solve this problem is obviously to spay or neuter your dog. Other than that, you’ll just have to deal with it.
Many dogs pace because they simply can’t get comfortable. It’s essential that you determine why they’re uncomfortable, though.
If it’s because of arthritis or other age-related conditions, you may need to put them on painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications. Adding a glucosamine supplement to their food is a smart idea as well.
Sometimes, however, the discomfort could be caused by bloat, eating something poisonous, an intestinal blockage, or other potentially life-threatening conditions. If your dog is otherwise healthy and the pacing just started, consider taking them to the vet immediately.
It’s especially imperative to rush them to the doctor if you’re noticing other symptoms, like a swollen belly, vomiting, diarrhea, foaming at the mouth, or excessive drooling.
Cushing’s disease is caused by an overproduction of the hormone cortisol. A tumor on the pituitary or adrenal gland often causes it.
The primary symptom of Cushing’s disease is pacing, so it’s something to take seriously. If your dog suffers from the disease, your dog will need to either have surgery to remove the tumor or go on a pharmaceutical regimen.
As long as the tumor is small, Cushing’s disease can be managed for quite some time. Otherwise, the prognosis can be grim.
Pacing can also be a sign of liver disease, although it’s usually marked by unstable walking as well.
Liver disease can be caused by a variety of things, including parasites, diabetes, eating certain plants or molds, fatty foods, or excessive use of painkillers. The liver is a resilient organ, so the prognosis is good if you can find and correct the problem before too much damage is done.
Just like humans, elderly dogs can suffer from dementia. It’s especially common among toy breeds.
The symptoms are similar as well. Your dog can act depressed, confused, disoriented, or even aggressive. It’s not their fault — they just may not know where they are or who you are.
It’s heartbreaking, but sadly, there’s not much you can do to stop it. Instead, you’ll need to make lifestyle changes to make your pup’s life as comforting as possible.
This can include adhering to a strict schedule, blocking off dangerous areas with baby gates, and reassuring them as much as possible when they seem confused. Try not to make too many changes, like rearranging furniture.
While your dog may not fully recognize you, they’ll still be grateful for love and companionship, so make sure they get plenty of both.
Cancer rates in dogs are skyrocketing. Some of this is a natural consequence of dogs living longer, thanks to better diets and medical care, but environmental issues or poor breeding practices can also cause cancer.
Brain tumors can be difficult to diagnose because their symptoms are usually similar to other conditions. Also, many owners would balk at paying for an MRI or other pricey diagnostic tool if another explanation is possible.
In addition to pacing, look for seizures, changes in diet, unsteadiness, vision loss, and any other abnormal behavior.
Your pet’s prognosis will depend on a variety of things, including the size and placement of the tumor, how aggressive it is, and the dog’s overall health. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or palliative care.
Some breeds are more prone to brain tumors than others. Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Pugs, English Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers all have high incidences of this type of cancer, but no breed is immune.
Pacing Should Be Taken Seriously
As you can see, there is any number of reasons that your dog could be pacing. Hopefully, the answer is something harmless, but if there’s a serious underlying problem, it’s important to catch it as early as possible.
Unless you can identify a clear, benign reason that your dog is pacing, it’s better to err on the side of caution and take them to the vet, especially if the behavior is becoming more frequent. Of course, you’ll be the one pacing as you wait for the prognosis, but that’s a good sign — it means you love your dog as much as they deserve.
Featured Image Credit: Helena Lopes, Pexels