My dog is staring at nothing and shaking
It’s quite spooky to find your dog staring at nothing and shaking. Some people get nervous that their dog is seeing ghosts when they stare at a wall. This is quite creepy, but not likely the cause of the behavior.
Staring at nothing could be simply a way to get attention or a sign of a variety of conditions, from mild to more serious.
This article will explore the reasons why your dog may be staring at nothing. Ideally, this guide will help you rule in or rule out certain conditions for your pet and allow you to decide whether or not a trip to the vet is in need.
Why does my dog stare into space?
Staring into space is only one behavior that must be compared among others to differentiate between possible causes. According to the American Kennel Club, there are a few main reasons your dog could be embarking on this activity. See the chart below for details.
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Let’s discuss these possibilities in more detail below and review other less common causes as well.
Dogs are smart! And they also love attention. Your dog might have figured out that when he acts a little off-kilter it causes you to notice him and give him some attention.
If this is the reason for your dog staring at the wall, you aren’t likely to see shaking accompany the behavior. Your dog should also respond immediately to your call. After all, your attention is exactly what he wanted!
You’ve probably noticed your dog’s advanced skills in hearing before. Maybe she started barking at the door before someone even knocked or heard a far off dog collar jingle and started howling.
Dogs can hear twice as many frequencies as humans and can hear sounds from four times the distance that we can. With these amazing skills, your dog may be hearing something scampering in your walls.
Take note of other signs of pests in your home to help you rule out this cause. For example, look for mice droppings, wall damage, smell, and other noises.
A dog listening to pests in walls will likely respond when called by name. Try placing your ear against the wall in the direction they were looking, to see if you can hear anything odd as well.
If you identify any additional signs of pests in your home, congratulations, you’ve probably cracked the case of your dog staring! Now, time to call a pest controller.
Do you bite your fingernails? Chew your lip, twirl your hair, tap your foot? These are all compulsive behaviors that are common in humans. Just like us, dogs also use compulsive behaviors.
Though generally harmless, there is a range of intensity that these behaviors can inhabit. And as expected, it’s possible for them to get out of control.
Common compulsive behaviors among dogs include:
- Incessant barking
- Fly snapping (even without a fly)
Also similar to humans is the potential for a harmless compulsive disorder to transform into a more complex condition, like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that commonly begins in dogs around 12-24 months old. It can be caused by a myriad of things, including an illness, kenneling, viral infections, toxin exposure, or degeneration.
In the dog that has OCD, other symptoms that may be noticed include signs of excessive licking or chewing (missing fur and raw spots or wounds) and worsening behavior over time that cannot be interrupted by calling or physical restraint.
If you suspect this to be the cause of your dog staring at nothing, contact your vet to begin intervention as soon as possible. Treating this condition before it worsens will save your pet from a lot of mental stress and physical discomfort or harm.
Contrary to popular belief, not all seizures are dramatic and clear events. Even in humans, seizures can display as a simple blank stare. This type of seizure is called a focal seizure or partial seizure.
Seizures are common in dogs and can be a one-of rarity or a condition that progresses. Many causes can contribute to seizures, such as cancer and epilepsy. Epilepsy happens to be the most common neurological disorder in dogs.
Epileptic seizures are unprovoked and recurrent. Therefore, if you notice a recurring off-into-space staring in your dog, try to video the instance and write down what you see, and how long it lasts. This information will help your vet in diagnosing your dog.
Though epilepsy can easily be treated with medication, there are other more serious potential causes, like cancer, that may be at play.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome
You can see by this point that dogs and humans share a lot of commonalities. The clearest of them all being that we are both subject to the symptoms of aging. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, or CDS, is essentially a decline in cognitive function.
It’s estimated that 28% of older dogs have this condition. The symptoms are similar to what you would see in a human with dementia or Alzheimer’s. In dogs, we can use the acronym DISH to investigate for other symptoms.
D – Disorientation
I – Interactions
S – Sleep
H – House-training
See the below chart for a description of each of these symptom categories.
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If you notice any combination of these symptoms in your aging pup, take them to visit the vet. You must care for your dog in the right way, to lessen the symptoms and slow down the progression of CDS.
Other causes of wall-staring in dogs
Besides the more common conditions explained above, there are many more reasons that can explain this behavior in dogs. Other possible causes include:
- Head trauma
- Toxin ingestion
- Vestibular disease
- Deep in thought
Odd wall-staring may be a sign that your pup has suffered from a head injury, like a fall, fighting with other animals, or a motor vehicle accident.
If this is the case, your dog may also seem disoriented, confused, show irregular pupil sizes, and facial drooping or weakness. You may also notice ear or nose bleeding.
This is a serious condition and must be treated immediately. Contact your emergency vet line and take action without pause.
You’ve seen your dog eat some nasty stuff. The curious pup will get into just about anything, which is why it’s so important to keep toxic substances far away from pets.
Common toxins in the household include cleaning supplies, medications, and certain food items. You may not have been aware, but dogs are not capable of tolerating some normal human foods, like the following:
- Toothpaste or gum with xylitol – very poisonous to dogs
- Caffeine – like coffee or chocolate
- Some nuts – like pistachios and pecans
- Raw potatoes
The list goes on! You need to be aware of food items that are easily accessible to your dog. When a dog has ingested something hazardous, you will also see lethargy and sedation, a spacey look, vomiting, nausea, and other symptoms.
This is an acute condition and must be treated with haste. Contact your vet immediately for instructions and medical assistance.
We all have the blues now and again, but depression is in a league of its own. Dogs are susceptible to becoming depressed and in this state, they will seem withdrawn, inactive, and sullen.
A state of depression could be caused by a major life change, like the passing of their human or canine companions. If your dog has experienced something of this sort, depression could be the cause of her wall staring and shaking.
Spend some extra time with your dog and give them plenty of love. Continue to pay attention to their behaviors and other symptoms. Symptoms of depression are also similar to those of medical conditions, so it’s important to distinguish between them.
This is a sudden and acute issue more common in older dogs. The dog will display sudden loss of balance, irregularity with walking, disorientation, and jerking eye movements. Your dog may not want to walk and you may find them just wanting to stare at the wall.
It’s hard to find respite with constant dizziness and room-spinning. Staring at the wall may provide some trace of visual stability.
Contact your vet when you notice this sudden change in activity and supplementary symptoms in your dog, this issue is very treatable and should resolve within a few weeks.
Deep in thought
A calm and relaxed dog may just be thinking when they stare at a wall. In this case, the behavior isn’t likely to be repetitive or regular. They will respond to their name when called or shift their gaze when you attempt to get their attention.
A few instances of wall-staring isn’t alarming, but be sure to take a mental note of the frequency, in case it increases and indicates more than just a thoughtful Fido.
What should I do if my dog is staring at nothing?
Staring off into space on one occasion is nothing to be concerned about. You’ve probably stared at nothing, or the wall, at some point in your life. When the behavior seems to repeat itself is when you need to start paying attention.
When you see your dog staring at the wall, try calling their name. Do they respond right away? Next, you can try gently petting them or stand in front of their gaze. Watch what they do and take note.
If they are very interested in the wall like they would be if they saw a squirrel outside the window, try placing your ear against the wall to have a listen as well. If you hear any chewing, scrambling, or other odd noises, you could have some pests in your walls. Thanks, pup!
Ruling out pests, dogs that regularly stare at the wall and exhibit other concerning symptoms will benefit from a visit with your vet.
Should I be worried when my dog is staring at the wall?
Don’t be worried right away. It will take some continued observation from you to determine if your dog’s behavior is concerning. One or two occurrences of wall-starring are nothing of alarm.
When the behavior is repetitive and regular, it’s time to take note. Literally, take note. Video your dog’s activity and scribe the date, time, length of the behavior, and any other defining characteristics or descriptions.
Wall staring and shaking is nothing to ignore, even though it might be completely harmless. Unfortunately, our dogs aren’t able to verbally communicate their needs to us. It would be much easier to care for them, but for this reason, we must stay vigilant owners.
Our dogs rely on us for safety and care. When in doubt, contact your vet right away. Some causes of wall-staring and irregular behavior are quite serious and treatment should not be delayed.
When you notice recurring wall-staring and shaking in your dog, now you know what to do and what to look for. You’ll be more informed and have more detailed observations to share with your vet.