Zoomies explained

Running around in circles? Mad, mid-air twists and spins? When your pet shows a flash of exuberant activity, what does it mean? There’s no doubt that the arrival of early summer puts a spring in our step. Ever had a sudden feeling of intense excitement and an unexpected burst of energy that, quite literally, makes you want to jump for
Featured image for Zoomies explained
29th June 2023

Running around in circles? Mad, mid-air twists and spins? When your pet shows a flash of exuberant activity, what does it mean?

There’s no doubt that the arrival of early summer puts a spring in our step. Ever had a sudden feeling of intense excitement and an unexpected burst of energy that, quite literally, makes you want to jump for joy? It’s the same for our pets too.

When it comes to our canine chums, an attack of the ‘zoomies’ – as it’s often popularly called – may simply be their way of showing us they’re really happy. US vet Dr Zac Pilossoph says: “The term 'zoomies' describes behaviour many pet parents have experienced. Your dog can get the zoomies during a few scenarios, like when an owner comes home or uses a favourite toy. The zoomies can best be defined as a dog's most excited expression of happiness.”

Canine behaviour expert Dr Stanley Coren advises: “For those of you who don't know the term ‘zoomies’, you would probably recognise the behaviour when you saw it. Your dog suddenly bursts into a frantic run. With his rump tucked and back rounded, he's running erratically looping around the room or yard at high speed.”

What triggers ‘zoomies’ and are they harmful?

Susan Hazel, Associate Professor, School of Animal and Veterinary Science, University of Adelaide, Australia, states: “Zoomies involve intense periods of high-energy activity including running, spinning, jumping and rolling. All at top speed. You might see post-bath zoomies, dog park-zoomies, midnight-zoomies and good ol’ out-of-nowhere zoomies. The trigger may be excitement or a sudden increase in stimulation.

“While we don’t yet know if zoomies are more likely to occur at certain times of the day, or more in some breeds compared with others, we do consider them a general indication of a high level of excitement – and likely a pretty good mood.”

Indeed, zoomies is a behaviour that’s well documented – there’s even an official scientific term for it.

Dr Stanley Coren adds: “Scientists have labelled this pattern of behaviour ‘frenetic random activity periods’ (FRAPs). The older label for this was ‘emotional overflow.’ Both labels are reasonably descriptive. The consensus seems to be that the meaning of this behaviour is similar to that often observed in young children, especially those between the ages of around two to five years of age. This is sensible, because the average dog's mind works in a manner that is very similar to that of a human two-to-three-year-old.

“Fortunately, zoomies don't last very long – a minute or two is typical – and, barring the effect of collisions with young children or items in the environment, they are not harmful. That means no intervention is necessary.”

Why cats have ‘mad moments’

Along with dash-about dogs, some felines also have ‘mad moments’ – but their motivation is likely to be different from what triggers canines to race around in circles.

Dr Zac Pilossoph says: “Some cats get excitation zoomies, but it's from a predatory aspect, and they often like to express their zoomies using a toy they can chase: a wand with feathers at the end or even a laser they can hunt. Cat zoomies can happen, but it's a bit lesser known. Any exercise you can get in your cat is great. Like dogs, cats expressing the zoomies can also depend on the cat's personality.”

While enjoying a ‘hunting’ game could understandably cause your favourite feline to feel a rush of adrenaline and excitement, there’s another, rather unexpected cause and effect to this behaviour that scientists have noted.

Prof Hazel adds: “In cats, a commonly reported trigger is using the litter tray. This may be explained by ‘poo-phoria’, a feeling of euphoria following defecation. This is possibly caused by large bowel movements stimulating the vagus nerve, resulting in positive feelings and a drop in heart rate and blood pressure.”

Zoomies behaviour is found in other animals too

“This kind of behaviour is not exclusive to dogs,” states Dr Stanley Coren. “Bursts of frenetic activity can be seen in wild animals ranging from ferrets to elephants. Zoomie-like behaviours are so common in rabbits that they have even earned the special name of ‘bunny binkies‘.”

Indeed, there are all sorts of ways that our pets show us they are feeling delightfully happy. For example:

  • When really excited, guinea pigs can jump straight up and down, often turning 90° in mid-air, performing a neat little move known as ‘pop corning’.
  • When ferrets are feeling happy, they’ll often perform the ‘dance of joy’. This involves puffing up their tail, baring their teeth and throwing their head back and hopping around in all directions.
  • A really happy chinchilla will popcorn and bounce around excitedly.
  • If your gerbils jump in the air, it’s a sign they’re excited – you may find that they do this when they see you first thing in the morning, or when you are playing with them as a way of letting you know they are happy to be socialising with you.
  • Pet rats laugh when they play with each other and when they’re tickled – and playfully seek tickling from people just like dogs urge their human to play.

Are ‘zoomies’ always a sign your pet is happy?

Prof Hazel adds: “If the zoomies are occurring as part of your animal’s regular play routine, this indicates your animal is happy and enjoying themselves. It’s important to remember animals are individuals and, just like us, why they behave the way they do is complex and multifaceted. When assessing your animal’s behaviour, it’s essential to also assess the context.

“Ask yourself: am I invited to the zoomie? In dogs and cats, zoomies can include an invitation for others to join – in dogs this is most commonly a play bow, where the dog appears to ‘bow’ to another in an effort to signal it is keen to play – followed by a pause commonly seen in dyadic play (play between two or more individuals). In cats, an invitation may include physically interacting with you or repeatedly rolling over. If this is the case, your animal is likely experiencing excitement and a desire to interact with you.”

So, while animal behaviourists agree that zoomies are usually completely normal, they can sometimes be a warning sign that something’s not quite right.

Prof Hazel adds: “Zoomies may be a symptom of either stress or an underlying medical condition. As always, context is key. You should consult with your veterinarian if your dog or cat is displaying the behaviour for extended periods of time. These might be signs of a repetitive behaviour disorder. If you struggle to distract or stop the behaviour, or if it is resulting in injuries, seek veterinary assistance.”

Make more time for your pets

Puppy Leaks which offers tips and advice on how to live a happier, healthier life with dogs, suggests: “While these outbursts are common, they might indicate that your dog isn’t getting enough exercise. If your dog gets the zoomies often, try giving them some more mental and physical exercise. Just add a few quick mentally stimulating games and physical activities into your dog’s daily routine.”

The same advice is true for all our pets. Spending more time interacting with them, playing games and finding out more about their likes and dislikes is hugely beneficial, and helps to build and strengthen that special bond.

Prof Hazel adds: “Unless there’s an element of immediate danger (such as zoomies on or near a road) there is no reason to stop your cat or dog from enjoying their burst of fun. Cats and dogs are often superstars at avoiding obstacles even at high speed. If you’re lucky enough to receive invitations to partake in the chaos, feel free to join in the play. Enjoying shared activities such as play with your dog or cat can have many benefits for the human-animal relationship.”

Is your dog a Burgess dog? Your cat a Burgess cat? Your small pets Burgess small pets? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

Burgess Pet Care is a British, family-owned company and one of the UK's leading pet food manufacturers. Supporting British farmers and using locally sourced ingredients wherever possible, its story goes back more than 300 years >>

Looking for helpful advice for your pets? We’ve lots of great tips to help you give your animals the best life on our pet care pages >>

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