Dogs can act strangely sometimes.
Generally, these strange behaviors can be relatively common and even expected amongst dogs.
But what if you find your dog looking around frantically and pacing around the house for no apparent reason? Does this mean anything?
There are many possible explanations as to why your dog keeps looking around the room, even when it seems like there is nothing there.
They can range from normal reasons like aging and having heard something, to more alarming possibilities such as hallucination, fear, and fly-snapping syndrome.
If these changes are recent, it is important that you act early as it can be a symptom of something very serious.
Unless your dog is hearing something, getting old, or you are able to take away the stimulus that leads to this behavior, you should consult with a veterinarian for further directions.
It is important that you pay attention and record the time, date and general description of the environment the dog was in when it acted strangely. This will help you and your vet by identifying a potential cause that makes your dog look around frantically.
Like humans, as a dog gets older, changes to physical health, mental health and behavior patterns will occur. If your dog does something strange like look around frantically, it may be due to canine cognitive dysfunction- also known as dog dementia.
Other signs of dementia include mood swings, incontinence, inability to recognize people or places, and becoming more prone to separation anxiety. Your dog may develop strange behaviors such as a sudden floor-licking habit.
In situations such as this, routinely exercising and interacting with your dog to provide mental stimulation will be helpful. While unfortunately there is no formal treatment, you may be able to slow down the mental and physical decline. You can also try to exercise their mind through the use of toys and treat-dispensing bowls.
You can consider bringing your older dog to the vet to learn how to deal with this sudden change in behavior and lifestyle.
Certain dogs could have an earlier onset of this frantic behavior as they have a shorter lifespan than others and therefore age faster.
Other dogs are healthier than others due to genetics so they could be less prone to changes in their behavior from health problems.
Dogs’ ears are four times more sensitive than humans. This means they can hear sounds from further away and pick up on a wider frequency than their owners.
So although it seems worrying that your dog started looking and moving around frantically, they could be trying to detect and understand the source of a strange sound.
In this case, you do not have to worry about anything- you can just join in on investigating what that strange sound is!
When your dog looks around frantically, it could actually be due to something called nystagmus. Nystagmus is the unintentional movement of the eyes- either jerky or slow in motion.
This condition is a natural occurrence with aging, but it could also be due to more serious causes such as a head trauma or vestibular disease.
Some other symptoms of nystagmus include:
- Loss of Coordination
- Motion Sickness/Nausea
- Head Tilting
- Walking in Circles
In rare cases, nystagmus can be caused by infections in the ear or brain, or even a seizure or epilepsy. You will need to consult with your vet as the treatment will depend on the cause. The primary causes are discussed below.
Your dog might have received a direct impact from a solid object against their head. This may have disrupted their brain circuits and caused nystagmus, loss of coordination, balance, and other symptoms.
In this scenario, you must take your dog to the vet and receive scans (such as an X-ray) and treatment immediately as there could be future implications including permanent brain damage if nothing is done early on.
At the vet, you can expect to receive pain medication and other medical drugs. Your dog will undergo a neurological examination to assess the damage.
Recovery may take a long time depending on the severity of the injury. During this time, it is best that you limit their activities by confining them to a small comfortable area.
Vestibular disease, also known as canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome or old dog vestibular syndrome, involves a ‘sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance.’ This condition is seen more amongst senile dogs and is another possible explanation for nystagmus.
The vestibular system is important for maintaining balance and resides in areas of the brain and ear. Infections, drug intoxication, trauma and tumors are amongst the many causes of vestibular disease.
There are many different types of the disease and it can affect various different areas of the dog’s body, such as the ears or the brain stem.
Vestibular disease can be congenital (meaning already present at birth) or idiopathic (developed with age). Other than nystagmus, it will result in symptoms such as loss of balance and coordination, tilted head, and overall disorientation.
Vestibular disease can be diagnosed by assessing your dog’s medical history and other concurrent symptoms such as nausea or vomiting.
Urine and blood tests may be required, as well as blood pressure measurements and radiographs (X-rays). In more extreme cases, MRI and CT scans will be used to see if there are any tumors or abnormalities.
Treatment will be based on the cause and severity. Sedatives can help relax your dog when they have severe loss of balance or coordination; Antibiotic drugs can be administered for infections and if the symptoms are severe, your dog may need to be hospitalized.
As your dog looks around frantically, they could be hallucinating due to the Fly-Snapping Syndrome, seizures or epilepsy (which are later discussed below), or due to other medical issues.
It is important that you consult with your vet immediately if you think your dog is suffering from hallucinations as it could be due to any unknown medical condition.
The Fly-Snapping or Fly-Biting Syndrome is considered a rare canine condition.
If your dog is looking around frantically and suddenly bites at seemingly nothing in the air, your companion could have this syndrome. Your pup could also stare into space and suddenly snap in the air. These occurrences can be sudden, occasional, or constant.
There are many theorized causes of Fly-Snapping Syndrome- below are some of possible explanations.
Some veterinarians consider partial seizures or epilepsy as the cause of this syndrome. There is a possibility that these epilepsies are hereditary and become more common with age.
You should ask your vet for help in this case. After assessing your dog’s medical history and conducting a physical examination, they may administer antiepileptic medications such as benzodiazepines or Potassium Bromide to prevent recurrent epilepsies.
It is important that you get help as soon as possible as epilepsy can become much more severe in your dog and risks spiralling out of control. At that point, medication may no long be able to help your best friend.
A substance called Asteroid Hyalosis is present in dog eyes and is the equivalent of vitreous floaters in humans. Dogs (and humans) can naturally get these as they grow older or through eye injuries.
Asteroid Hyalosis originate from the vitreous, which is a jelly-like substance that is enclosed in the middle of the eye. As your dog ages, calcium and phospholipids within the vitreous clump together, causing spots to appear in your dog’s vision.
It is theorized that your dog could mistake these spots as flies, or some other bothersome object. This may explain why your dog is looking around frantically as it could be curious or annoyed about these spots that move as the dog moves its eyes.
To put it in simpler terms, imagine looking through a ball of clear slime as the vitreous. Now imagine that inside the slime, there are very small pieces of dust. Although the dust is not really visible initially, if they clump together, it will create darker spots in your slime ball.
This could be what your dog is seeing and therefore why it is acting strangely.
Asteroid Hyalosis can be diagnosed by having an eye examination, although you may be able to spot these if you see white sparkles that move around your dog’s eyes when they move them.
Treatment is not necessary as most dogs can live their lives in comfort with near-complete vision even with Asteroid Hyalosis. However, if you choose to you may have the dog undergo vitrectomy, which is a surgical procedure that removes a portion of the vitreous to remove Asteroid Hyalosis.
Your companion could look around frantically and suddenly bite in the air due to previous experiences of physical abuse, lack of attention or care, or lack of socialization. This may be the case especially if your dog is a rescue dog who may be doing this to protect itself.
In these circumstances, make sure to give as much love as you can to your friend, and make them feel safe wherever they are. It will take time for your friend to feel at peace around you.
Asking for help from a dog psychology expert could be an option as they can tell you how to act or how to alter the dog’s environment so that this behavior does not happen again.
Dogs are curious creatures and will eat anything they might find- even human medications like Nyquil, eye drops or Xanax. However, if dogs ingest psychotherapeutic drugs like marijuana, which contains THC, you may see your dog look around frantically.
The drug’s effect on your pet’s nervous system is the likely culprit of their strange behavior. Other signs of drug intoxication include vomiting, diarrhea, paranoia, dizziness, enlarged eyes, and changes in blood pressure and heart rate. Dogs do not metabolize drugs the same way we do.
Drug intoxication can be resolved in a few days if you contact your vet immediately to identify the appropriate treatment. Let them know the type and amount of drugs it has taken.
Taking the container of the drug or knowing the contents of the drug would be a good idea so that the vet can identify any other toxic substances that may be inside.
At the vet’s office, they will be able to administer the right medications depending on the symptoms and provide your pet with IV fluids to flush your dog’s body of the drug.
Seizure or Epilepsy
Seizures are single events that occur when there is an involuntary movement due to temporary abnormal brain function. Epilepsy is a series of seizures. Dogs can experience idiopathic seizures which are seizures that occur randomly and have an unknown cause.
If your dog only appears to display frantic behavior once, this would indicate that they had experienced a seizure and their behavior and brain function should soon normalize. If their behavior does not normalize or worsens, you should contact your vet immediately.
There may be unknown underlying issues that only arise as dogs get older or are in the presence of a particular cue. In the most severe cases, there could be a brain tumor that is causing their seizures and making them display frantic behaviors.
Record the details of this event such as time, date, environment and possible stimulus as it may help the vet choose the appropriate treatment for your dog.
Dogs can feel stressed or anxious due to changes in their environment, or when a new pet or person enters their territory. Some indicators of stress or anxiety include:
- Looking around frantically
- Chasing its tail more often
- Whining or whimpering
- Barking, especially in a higher pitch
Dogs generally love familiarity and do not cope well with changes in their environment. You can make their crate a safe place that your dog can escape to whenever it feels anxious or stressed.
If you have moved houses, you can reduce its anxiety and stress by surrounding him with familiar objects like their favorite wooden toy. If you are introducing a new pet to your home, monitor their actions and reinforce good behavior until they get along with each other.
Your dog could be experiencing separation anxiety and may be looking around frantically for someone to be with. Other common signs of separation anxiety include:
You can stop their separation anxiety by providing a treat-dispensing toy when you are about to leave. An example would be giving treats or food in a bowl that makes them chew slower. They will associate your departure with a reward and should thereby gradually stop acting frantically.
For more severe cases, you can slowly increase the duration that your dog is separated from you over a few weeks. An example would involve standing behind a door so that you are not in their field of vision and gradually increase the time where they cannot see you.
If there are cues that indicate departure such as keys or a coat, you can condition the dog so that they understand these cues do not necessarily mean you are about to leave. For example, pick up your keys and go sit back down and watch TV or use your computer.
Another method would be tiring the dog by playing more games or letting it run around more. This way, it will not have the energy or time to be worried.
You can also receive assistance from behavioral specialists such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. They may prescribe medications and modify their behavior, so they no longer suffer from separation anxiety.
- Looking around frantically
- Tail is placed between its legs
- Lowered ears
Your companion could be looking around frantically to find an escape route, or doing so subconsciously whilst they think of an appropriate response.
Their fear could be caused by knowing they are about to be punished for doing something naughty, or from certain objects, smells or specific cues that entails something bad is about to happen:
- Objects – Dogs can be afraid of unfamiliar objects. Their source of fear can be easily identified and replaced or removed. A surprising example would be water bowls. It is usually best to allow your friend to gradually get used to the object so that you do not have to remove the new item every time your dog becomes afraid.
- Smells – Dogs want to be surrounded by scents they recognize. If there is a new source of smell from things like candles or perfumes, your dog would likely look around to find it and would want you to remove it. Like with objects, you can try letting your dog get used to the smell.
- Cues – Dogs can be easily traumatized, and an abusive past can make them fearful of anything that may mean nothing to you. You should recognize when they look around frantically and try to train them to be calm and understand nothing bad will happen.
When your companion is afraid, let them bury their heads into you and make them feel safe. You can physically comfort them, even if it may mean accidentally swallowing dog saliva from being licked. They will thank you for all the help they can get.
In an interesting but heart-breaking article by The Mirror UK, pets may look around frantically because they are trying to find their owners in their dying moments. The article talks specifically about pets that are being put down due to serious medical conditions or other private reasons.
In these situations, some owners cannot bear to stay in the same room as their pets.
Though it is one of the hardest things in the world, maybe people should reconsider leaving the room and instead stay beside their best friends until their final moment to give them the peace of mind they deserve.
If you find your dog looking around frantically, write down the details of the event as it can help immeasurably with diagnosing the problem.
The behavior could be due to various reasons such as hearing something, nystagmus, hallucinations, fly biting/snapping syndrome, stress, anxiety, or fear. It could also be happening simply because your dog might just be getting old.
Monitor your dog diligently and if symptoms continue or worsen, get in contact with your vet or a dog psychologist as soon as possible to find the most appropriate solution.
Elena Gherman is a highly skilled and knowledgeable animal care expert. At the start of her career, she gained practical expertise with multiple animals. In addition to that, she works as a DVM veterinary editor for Joy Pet Products, which focuses on offering reliable information on pet health and wellbeing. She meticulously reviews each piece of writing before it is published to make sure pet owners get the most precise and updated information possible.