Have you ever noticed your dog or cat walking in circles before lying down? Or maybe you’ve seen your hamster or guinea pig running laps around their enclosure. If so, you’re not alone – this circling behavior is surprisingly common in the animal kingdom.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Animals often walk or run in circles to flatten down grass, leaves or other material to create a comfortable nest before lying down. It’s an instinctual behavior left over from the days when their wild ancestors needed to mask their scent and compress their sleeping area to avoid predators.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we’ll explore the intriguing phenomenon of animal circling in depth. We’ll cover:

Common Examples of Circling Behavior in Pets


One common example of circling behavior in dogs is when they are preparing to lie down. They will often circle multiple times before finally settling in a spot. This behavior can be traced back to their ancestors, who would circle to create a comfortable nest or den in the wild. Circling also helps dogs to check for any potential threats or hazards in their surroundings. If your dog is excessively circling or seems disoriented, it could be a sign of a medical issue, and you should consult with a veterinarian.


Cats, on the other hand, may exhibit circling behavior when they are preparing to sleep or when they are hunting. Before settling down, cats may circle their sleeping area to ensure it is safe and comfortable. When hunting, cats may circle their prey to assess the situation and plan their attack. It’s important to note that excessive circling or disorientation in cats can also indicate a health problem, and it’s best to seek veterinary advice if you have concerns.

Hamsters/Guinea Pigs

Hamsters and guinea pigs often display circling behavior in their cages. This behavior is typically related to exploring their environment or searching for food. They may also circle when they are not feeling well or experiencing discomfort. If you notice your hamster or guinea pig constantly circling or exhibiting other abnormal behaviors, it’s recommended to consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment.


Circling behavior in birds can have various meanings depending on the species. Some birds, like parrots, may circle as a form of play or exercise. Others, like birds of prey, may circle as part of their hunting strategy. In some cases, circling can be a sign of illness or injury, especially if the bird appears disoriented or unable to maintain a straight flight path. If you own a pet bird and notice abnormal circling behavior, it’s important to seek advice from an avian veterinarian.

Remember, while circling behavior can be normal in certain situations, it’s crucial to monitor your pet for any signs of distress or abnormality. If you have concerns, it’s always best to consult with a veterinarian who can provide expert guidance and ensure the well-being of your furry or feathered friend.

Circling Behavior in the Wild

Nesting Birds

Have you ever wondered why some birds seem to fly in circles before they land on their nests? This circling behavior is actually a natural instinct that helps them to ensure the safety of their young. By circling their nests, birds are able to survey the area for potential predators and assess the overall safety of the environment before settling down. This behavior is especially common in birds that build their nests on the ground, where they are more vulnerable to threats.

Big Cats Like Lions and Tigers

Big cats like lions and tigers also exhibit circling behavior, but for a different reason. When these majestic creatures circle around their prey, it serves as a strategic tactic to confuse and disorient their target. By moving in a circular motion, they make it difficult for their prey to predict their next move, increasing their chances of a successful hunt. This behavior demonstrates the incredible intelligence and adaptability of these apex predators.

Wolves and Other Wild Canines

Wolves and other wild canines exhibit circling behavior as well, but their motivation behind it is quite fascinating. When wolves are preparing to rest or sleep, they often circle around a specific spot before lying down. This behavior is believed to have several functions, including scent-marking the area, creating a comfortable sleeping spot, and aligning themselves with the pack’s social hierarchy. By circling, they leave their scent behind and establish their presence in the area.


Many rodents, such as mice and hamsters, also display circling behavior in their everyday activities. This behavior is often observed when they are exploring new territories or searching for food. By circling around an area, rodents are able to familiarize themselves with their surroundings and gather information about potential threats or resources. It is their way of gathering information and assessing the environment before making a move.

Theories on Why Animals Circle Before Lying Down

Have you ever wondered why animals often circle before lying down? This peculiar behavior has puzzled scientists and animal enthusiasts alike for years. While there is no definitive answer, several theories have been proposed to explain this intriguing phenomenon.

To Flatten Down Grass and Leaves

One theory suggests that animals circle to flatten down the grass and leaves in their chosen resting spot. By walking in circles, they can create a more comfortable surface to lie on. This behavior is commonly observed in animals that live in grassy habitats, such as deer and elephants. By flattening the vegetation, they can create a cozy and level bed to rest upon.

To Mark Territory

Another theory proposes that circling before lying down is a way for animals to mark their territory. By trampling the ground and vegetation, they leave behind their scent and physical markings. This serves as a visual and olfactory signal to other animals that the area is occupied and should be avoided. This behavior is commonly observed in carnivores such as lions and wolves, who have a strong territorial instinct.

To Mask Scent from Predators

Some animals may circle before lying down to mask their scent from potential predators. By walking in circles, they mix their own scent with the surrounding environment, making it harder for predators to detect them. This behavior is often observed in prey animals, such as gazelles and rabbits, who are constantly on the lookout for predators. By masking their scent, they increase their chances of staying hidden and avoiding being detected.

An Instinctive Ritual Behavior

Lastly, it is believed that circling before lying down may be an instinctive ritual behavior inherited from their ancestors. This behavior could have served a purpose in the past, such as patting down the ground to create a safe area or ensuring that there are no hidden threats nearby. Over time, this behavior has become ingrained in their species, even if its original purpose may no longer be relevant.

While these theories provide some insight into why animals circle before lying down, it is important to note that different species may exhibit this behavior for different reasons. Furthermore, there may be additional factors at play that are yet to be discovered. So the next time you see an animal walking in circles before settling down, take a moment to appreciate the mystery and diversity of the animal kingdom.

When Circling May Indicate a Medical Issue

While animals going in circles can sometimes be attributed to normal behavior, it can also be a sign of an underlying medical issue. If you notice your furry friend consistently exhibiting this behavior, it may be time to consider a visit to the veterinarian. There are several medical conditions that can cause animals to go in circles, and understanding these conditions can help you identify and address any potential health concerns.

Vestibular Disease

Vestibular disease is a common condition that affects the balance and coordination of animals. It occurs when there is a disruption in the inner ear or the brainstem, which are responsible for maintaining balance. Symptoms of vestibular disease can include circling, head tilting, loss of balance, and even falling over. While the exact cause of vestibular disease is often unknown, it can be triggered by various factors such as ear infections, tumors, or even certain medications. If your pet is circling and showing other signs of balance issues, it’s important to seek veterinary attention for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Cognitive Decline

As animals age, they may experience cognitive decline, similar to humans with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. This decline in cognitive function can lead to confusion, disorientation, and repetitive behaviors such as circling. Older pets may also exhibit other signs of cognitive decline, such as forgetting familiar routines or getting lost in familiar surroundings. It’s crucial to provide appropriate care and support for aging pets, including regular vet check-ups and enrichment activities to help stimulate their minds.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is not limited to humans; animals can also develop this condition. OCD in animals can manifest in various ways, including excessive grooming, repetitive behaviors, and yes, even circling. This behavior can be a result of anxiety or stress and may require intervention from a veterinarian or animal behaviorist. Treatment options for OCD in animals may involve behavior modification techniques, environmental enrichment, or medication, depending on the severity of the condition.


Stress and anxiety can affect animals just as it does humans. If an animal is feeling stressed or anxious, they may exhibit various signs, including circling. This behavior can be an expression of their unease or an attempt to self-soothe. Identifying the source of stress or anxiety and implementing appropriate management techniques can help alleviate the circling behavior. Providing a calm and secure environment, regular exercise, and using tools like pheromone diffusers or calming supplements can all be beneficial in reducing stress and preventing circling.

Remember, if your pet is exhibiting circling behavior, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause. They will be able to provide a proper diagnosis and recommend the most appropriate course of treatment. Taking action early can help ensure your furry friend stays happy and healthy for years to come!

How to Handle Excessive Circling

Excessive circling in animals can be concerning for pet owners. While some degree of circling is normal behavior, especially during play or exploration, persistent and repetitive circling may indicate an underlying issue. If you notice your pet excessively circling, here are some steps you can take to address the behavior:

1. Provide a Comfortable Bed

One possible reason for excessive circling is discomfort or pain. Ensuring that your pet has a comfortable bed can help alleviate any physical discomfort they may be experiencing. Choose a bed that provides proper support for their joints and muscles, and make sure it is placed in a quiet and cozy area of your home.

2. Rule Out Medical Causes

Before assuming that excessive circling is solely behavioral, it’s important to rule out any underlying medical conditions. In some cases, circling can be a symptom of neurological issues, ear infections, or vestibular problems. If you are concerned about your pet’s circling behavior, consult with your veterinarian to rule out any potential medical causes.

3. Try Calming Aids

If the circling appears to be anxiety-related, there are various calming aids that may help. These can include natural remedies, such as lavender oil or chamomile, or over-the-counter products specifically designed to reduce anxiety in pets. It’s always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian before administering any calming aids to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your pet.

4. Ensure Proper Mental Stimulation

Some animals may exhibit excessive circling due to boredom or a lack of mental stimulation. Make sure your pet’s environment provides opportunities for mental engagement, such as puzzle toys, interactive play sessions, or training exercises. Regular exercise and structured routines can also help reduce anxiety and provide a sense of stability for your pet.

Remember, every animal is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It’s important to observe your pet’s behavior closely, consult with professionals, and seek individualized solutions to address excessive circling. By taking appropriate steps, you can help improve your pet’s well-being and provide them with a comfortable and fulfilling life.


In summary, circling is an innate behavior for many animals as they seek to create the perfect sleeping spot by trampling down vegetation and clearing debris. This ritual also likely helped conceal their location from predators in the wild. While usually normal, excessive circling may sometimes indicate an underlying medical or behavioral issue that requires veterinary attention. By understanding the purpose behind this quirky phenomenon, we can better provide for our pets’ needs and ensure their circling rituals don’t become problematic.

Similar Posts