Friday, December 10, 2010

Ask the Vet, with Dr. Pat: Circling and Pacing Have Many Possible Causes

by Pat Bradley, DVM

Dearest Dr. Pat,

My bird dog/hunting dog, is about 10. I got her from a friend whose hunting dog had pups; she was the runt and did not sell.  

I think she was about 6 months old when I got her and she has been a good all around dog for me.  Now she is starting to behave a little strange. She doesn't sleep much and circles the yard or the house, pacing all the time. I would think she is tired and would drop but she hardly does till late at nite. 

She runs all day behind me on the tractor and goes with me to town in the truck. She seems better when she is busy with me. Is she just bored or nervous at home? I don't know what to think. 

We don't have a vet within driving distance. She had a rabies shot and does not have any obvious health problems that I can see. What should I do to help her? Is there a way to tell if a dog is in pain?

Yours truly,

Gosh, Adley. 

Your dog sounds like a wonderful working companion for you on the farm.  Fortunately, it seems that Rabies has been ruled out, not only because she’s had a vaccine, but because it only takes a couple of weeks for a dog to die after it starts to show symptoms like pacing.  

From your description, there are no obvious signs of pain such as limping, yelping, or decreased activity or appetite.  She might also just pant a lot and have a worried expression on her face. But those signs can also just mean she’s feeling nervous.

A few other questions come to mind:
  • Are there any signs of a new animal, wild or domestic, coming close to the farm?  If so, she might be feeling the need to patrol her territory more often.
  • Is there any reason she might feel more protective of you?  Dogs will sometimes get anxious and patrol more when they sense their human is feeling weak.
  • Has she ever had a seizure, even snapping at invisible flies?  Animals with epilepsy often get more restless as the years go by. 
The bottom line is: find a way to get her to a vet for an exam as soon as you can. Lots of other things, including toxicities, thyroid and brain problems, may cause this kind of pacing and restlessness.

If your vet doesn’t find anything that’s treatable, you might try one or more of these :
  • Anxiety in dogs can just melt away when they’re guided by an excellent pack leader. Watch the Dog Whisperer and double check your alpha dog skills. 
  • Try a flower essence, such as the Bach brand one called Rescue Remedy: Put a few drops into food twice daily for a couple of weeks.
  • The homeopathic medicine Arsenicum album, 6X: Give one pellet twice daily for a week.
  • Spend 30 minutes or so every day massaging her all over. Soft lighting and soft soothing music in the background can also help. 

    Good luck! A great companion like your dog is worth extra attention.

(c) courtesy P. Bradley

Have a question for Dr. Pat? You can reach us at

For a personal consultation about your pet's needs, visit Holistic Veterinary Services. To read Dr. Pat's other articles, visit her Archives page.
Dr. Pat's opinion or advice does not replace an actual exam with a veterinarian

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