Elderly Dog Pacing – What Does it Mean?

Dogs get old. No matter how much we take care of their health and well-being and do whatever we can to increase their longevity, old age is inevitable. And it will always manifest in different ways. One common behavioral issue in senior dogs is pacing.

Geriatric dogs tend to walk back and forth from one spot to another due to anxiety or compulsive behavior.

Find out what elderly dog pacing is, why elderly dogs do it, and what other behavioral issues to expect in senior dogs. Learn all about cognitive dysfunction in old dogs now and know what you should do to help them!

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pacing elderly dog

What is Dog Pacing?

When a dog paces, they usually walk back and forth from one spot to another in a repetitive pattern. Sometimes, they stroll from one part of the house to another without a destination in mind. 

Dogs pace when they wait for people or things. Normal dog pacing is also sometimes caused by excitement. They also sometimes do this when they’re stressed. However, that does not necessarily mean that dog pacing is a medical issue. 

When dogs pace due to anxiety, the source can be a variety of things like trips to the vet, waiting for you to come home, having to pee, or simply general restlessness. 

Elderly Dog Pacing – What Does it Mean?

As dogs age, they will start to pace more around the house and act stressed. Especially when they’re already geriatric, their memory, ability to learn, and their awareness and their senses of sight and hearing deteriorate.

Pacing is one sign that their cognitive function is declining. This is usually accompanied by anxiety and compulsive behaviors.


Most dog owners report that their elderly dogs are prone to increased sensitivity and irritability, pacing, as well as fear of unfamiliar places and people. These are all signs of anxiety in aging dogs.

Anxiety in senior dogs also entails separation anxiety. The signs of separation anxiety in senior dogs include the following:

  • Pacing, salivating, or depression before you depart.
  • House soiling, destructiveness, or vocalizing.
  • Refusal to eat when left alone, even if you leave out dog food, treats, or a food-stuffed toy.

If these behaviors only occur when they’re alone, then it’s separation anxiety. But if they also occur when you’re at home, other issues may be causing them. One feature of late-onset separation anxiety is that it can occur even when you’re asleep, meaning your dog views your sleeping as a form of separation.

Your dog will try to keep you awake by pacing, panting, pawing at you, and demanding attention.

Dog anxiety is usually addressed through training and desensitization, but elderly dogs might be too weak for these sessions. That said, your vet can suggest the best solution to the problem.

Compulsive and Stereotypic Behavior

This behavioral problem involves a number of different behaviors with different types of causes. They are ritualized, repetitive, and have no apparent goal or function.

For instance, old dogs like to lick and overgroom themselves, resulting in self-injury. They also spin, pace, air bite, stare at shadows, and eat inedible objects for no reason. Some medical conditions, including cognitive dysfunction, can cause or contribute to these behaviors. 

Sometimes, compulsive behavior in elderly dogs is caused by anxiety. They get used to feeling conflicted and anxious that they start engaging in displacement behaviors that become compulsive over time.

Drug therapy is usually necessary to resolve compulsive disorders.

Other Behavioral Problems in Older Dogs

Aside from pacing caused by either anxiety or compulsive behavior, here are other issues that may indicate cognitive dysfunction in senior dogs:

  • Confusion – Signs of spatial disorientation in dogs include getting lost in familiar places, going to the wrong side of the door, and getting stuck and not being able to navigate around or over obstacles.
  • Decreased activity – Does your dog explore less and respond less to things that used to excite them? Do they eat less than usual?
  • House Soiling – Older dogs tend to eliminate indoors in random locations or in view of you or your family members. They also eliminate indoors after returning from outside or in sleeping areas. Incontinence or accidental release of bladder is also part of this. 
  • Reverse body clock – Does your dog sleep restlessly and awaken at night? Do they look tired and sleepy during the day?

How to Care for Your Elderly Dog

If your senior dog shows any of the symptoms listed above aside from pacing, the first step is to take them to the vet to determine whether there is a specific medical cause of their behavior. It’s important not to jump to conclusions and self-diagnose our dogs since these changes can be due to other problems.

While dog pacing usually denotes cognitive dysfunction in dogs, it can also mean they feel discomfort due to other diseases, like dental disease, hypothyroidism, cancer, impaired sight or hearing, and other diseases that lead to irritability and increased anxiety about being touched, approached, and left alone.

Here are some things you can do for your elderly dog:

Maintain a Predictable Routine

Dogs like things to stay the same, and this is especially true of senior dogs. It doesn’t matter if it’s the food they eat, where they sleep, or what time they will go for a walk. A routine will help reduce anxiety by keeping things predictable. Stability is a good antidote to stress. 

Aside from a routine, a consistent environment is important. You should keep furniture, dog beds, food and water bowls, and everything else around the house in relatively the same position. It’s not the best time to consider redecorating.

Walks are Still Important

Walks are beneficial for dogs at any age, but they are especially important for dogs who suffer from dementia, so long as they are short and brisk. It will give them mild mental stimulation and proper blood flow which can increase oxygen and glucose to the brain. 

Remember that you shouldn’t overload your dog with physical activity and mental stimulation, but keeping them active is still necessary.

Give Them a Security Object

Make sure your dog has access to their favorite toys, like this interactive hide and seek toy, and other belongings. You can also leave a piece of your clothing in their spot to help them feel closer to you when you’re away. 

Try Natural Anti-Anxiety Products

Room diffusers are the best types of anti-anxiety products, as long as they won’t irritate your dog’s breathing and skin. You can also try other popular treatments like Bach Rescue Remedy for Pets

Make the House Feel Less Empty

If your dog feels anxious when left alone at home, leave the TV or radio playing. You can also leave a light or two on so that if you’re out and night falls, your dog won’t be scared of the dark.

Take Care of Your Elderly Dog!

When you notice your elderly dog pacing, stop and watch to see if they are exhibiting other symptoms that could point to an underlying medical issue.

Whether it’s cognitive dysfunction or irritability due to physical disorders, your elderly dog deserves as much love and care as they did when they were a puppy!

Learn how to care for your senior dog so they can enjoy their later years.