Published on
Last updated on
3 min read

Key takeaways

Pacing and circling is uncommonly observed in cats, though occasional pacing and circling are normal behaviors.

  • The primary conditions that cause pacing and circling are often accompanied by other symptoms
  • Potential causes of pacing and circling vary widely and include behavioral (obsessive compulsive disorder, boredom, severe anxiety), vestibular disease, central nervous system disease and toxin ingestion
  • When these behaviors are prolonged or accompanied by other symptoms such as head tilt, difficulty walking, abnormal mentation or gastrointestinal symptoms, an underlying medical cause is likely
  • Investigation of pacing and circling in cats includes physical examination, medical history, blood work and advanced imaging (x-ray, CT scan, MRI)
  • Treatment and prognosis vary widely depending on the underlying cause
Are you concerned?

Connect with a vet to get more information about your pet’s health.

Book an online vet

A closer look: Pacing in Cats

Pacing or circling for a short time while patrolling territory, waiting for a meal, looking for a place to urinate or defecate, or while watching birds through a window is normal behavior in cats. Pacing and circling that cannot be interrupted, cats that can’t seem to stop circling, or pacing and circling combined with other symptoms indicate a more serious underlying cause.

Cats with sudden-onset pacing/circling or with these additional symptoms should be promptly evaluated by a veterinarian. If toxin ingestion or head trauma is suspected, emergency veterinary care should be sought.

Risk factors

Pacing and circling in cats may be characterized by: Frequency - How often is the cat pacing or circling? Is it constant or done occasionally? Development - Did this symptom suddenly arise (acute) or has it been present long-term (chronic)? Persistence - Sudden pacing or circling where the cat appears unable to stop may be an indicator of an emergency; seek immediate veterinary attention if this is observed.

Note: Aside from behavioral reasons like boredom, these conditions all have other, more prevalent symptoms.

Testing and diagnosis

A cat who has been observed pacing or circling may require the following diagnostics to determine the root cause and course of action:

  • Physical examination: looking for causes including late term pregnancy, visible injury, or neurologic deficits
  • Blood work: this provides useful information about the pet’s overall health status and can suggest underlying causes like thyroid disease, infection, or toxicosis
  • Diagnostic imaging: ultrasound, X-rays, fluoroscopy, CT scan or MRI

Similar symptoms

A cat that is engaged in play may pace back and forth or run in circles. This is expected to be temporary and is not concerning.

Associated symptoms

If a cat is pacing or circling due to a medical condition, they may present with many additional symptoms.

Our editorial committee

Our medical review team is responsible for validating and maintaining the quality of our medical information.