It can be incredibly concerning if you repeatedly notice that your canine companion is staring off into space or seems fixated on a particular object without reason. You might worry that your dog is scared, feeling sick, or even has a head injury.
If you are unsure if your dog’s staring is expected, we are here to help. To do so, we will explain some of the most common reasons why a dog will seem to stare at nothing. From there, we will explain what you can do to help your furry friend.
By understanding the reasoning behind your dog’s seemingly odd behavior, you can know when it is time to book an appointment with a veterinarian and when your dog is simply displaying a harmless quirk!
Why Do Dogs Stare at Nothing?
The implications of your dog staring at nothing largely depends on how often they exhibit the behavior. If you have just caught your dog staring off into space one or two times, it is doubtful that it is a behavior you need to be overly concerned with.
Occasional staring could just be a sign that your dog has paused because they heard a sound in the distance or picked up an unusual smell.
On the other hand, if a dog is staring at walls and other inanimate objects frequently and for long periods, it could be a sign of a more severe condition. The following are some of the more concerning reasons why dogs will compulsively stare at nothing:
1. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)
If you have a dog in their senior life stage and they frequently stare at nothing, there is a chance that they could be suffering from the early stages of canine cognitive dysfunction or CCD.
CCD is a medical term for a form of age-related dementia that is relatively common amongst senior dogs. Just like dementia in humans, CCD often results in disorientation and difficulties with unique awareness.
What may appear as staring could signify that your dog is confused and disoriented in what was once a familiar setting. Other signs of this cognitive dysfunction syndrome can include bumping into walls and furniture, incontinence, mindless pacing around the house, not responding to basic commands, and raised levels of aggression.
What can you do if your dog is staring due to canine cognitive dysfunction?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for CCD; however, there are prescription medications and dietary modifications that can help manage your dog’s symptoms.
The best thing to do if you suspect your dog’s staring is linked to CCD is to simply bring your senior dog in for an assessment with a veterinarian. If your dog is diagnosed with CCD, your veterinarian will be able to discuss treatment plans and recommend actions you can take to improve your dog’s quality of life.
PetMD also has an informative guide to canine cognitive dysfunction that could be helpful – Dog Dementia – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Life Expectancy.
2. Canine Epilepsy and Partial Seizures
While you may associate epilepsy with sudden and dramatic symptoms, like collapsing and violently shaking, there are also less obvious signs of seizures in dogs.
Blankly staring is one of the most common signs of a mild seizure, which can also be known as a partial or focal seizure. This is because these types of seizures originate from only one part of the brain, so they have less of an effect on the dog’s entire body.
Unlike a general seizure, which originates in both brain hemispheres, these partial seizures produce mild symptoms. This can make them challenging to diagnose.
If you notice that your dog appears disoriented and lethargic after they snap out of their staring, there is a chance they suffered a partial seizure.
For more information about canine seizures, we recommend reading the American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation guide – Understanding Canine Epilepsy.
What can you do if your dog is staring as a result of seizures?
The first thing you need to do if you suspect mild seizures are responsible for your dog’s blank staring is to take them to a veterinarian immediately. A veterinarian will be able to run tests that can determine an accurate diagnosis for your dog.
Suppose the dog is suffering from canine epilepsy or another seizure-inducing condition. In that case, the veterinarian can prescribe medications that can help manage your dog’s symptoms and reduce the frequency of seizures.
There is a wide range of anti-epileptic drugs that are safe for dogs. Not only will your veterinarian be able to prescribe the best options, but they will also be able to explain strategies you can follow to help keep your dog safe if their seizures worsen.
3. Anxiety or Physical Pain
If your dog suddenly starts staring at nothing, there is a chance that this new behavior is linked to anxiety or even physical pain.
While dogs can undoubtedly express themselves through various vocalizations, they often communicate pain and discomfort quietly through their body language. If a dog has begun staring with a glazed-over look, it could be their way of dealing with pain, stress, or general discomfort.
You may also notice other symptoms beyond your dog’s staring, including whining, pacing, limping, and various destructive behaviors.
For more information about canine anxiety, consider reading the American Kennel Club’s thorough guide – Understanding, Preventing, and Treating Dog Anxiety.
What should you do if you suspect that your dog’s staring is due to pain or anxiety?
If the behavior seems to have started out of nowhere, carefully inspect your dog for signs of a physical injury. If you cannot locate any apparent signs of damage, take note of other behaviors your dog is exhibiting.
If the dog makes more noise than usual and seems panicked, it may suffer from anxiety. If the staring occurs shortly before you leave the house, it could be your dog’s way of expressing separation anxiety.
If you are concerned that your dog is in pain or that they are experiencing chronic anxiety, you should book an appointment with your veterinarian for an assessment. Explain the behaviors you have noticed, including your dog’s staring, as this can help inform the diagnosis.
From there, the veterinarian can prescribe a treatment plan, ranging from prescription medications to simple lifestyle adjustments, like more attention and exercise.
Other Reasons Why Dogs Stare at Nothing
While some of the causes mentioned above of staring can be alarming, there are plenty of other reasons dogs repeatedly stare at nothing.
For many dogs, staring is simply a compulsive behavior. Just like barking, chewing objects, heavy scratching, and chasing their tails, dogs will stare at nothing simply because it is a habit they developed from a young age.
Staring can also be a form of attention-seeking behavior, primarily if the staring is directed at a person. You may notice your dog staring at the door while a person is away or out the window while waiting for someone to return. In this sense, the dog is not exactly staring at nothing; they are more blankly gazing at an object, waiting for a particular result.
In these cases, you do not have to be overly concerned about your dog’s staring, but remember that it could be linked to anxiety or stress.
What Should You Do if Your Dog Is Staring?
Your dog’s staring can be treated in a variety of ways. You will need to visit a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan if it is linked to a medical condition or a physical injury.
If it is simply a compulsive behavior, you can try to give your dog attention when you notice that they are staring. This might help the dog overcome the behavior, mainly if the dog is staring due to boredom.