Stereotypic behaviours are commonly observed in captive animals and are usually interpreted as a sign of poor welfare. Stereotypies have also been linked with brain abnormalities. However, stereotypies are a heterogeneous class of behaviours and mounting evidence indicates that different stereotypies can have different causes, and can be linked to different affective states. As a consequence, the implications of a specific stereotypy in a specific species cannot be safely inferred from evidence on other stereotypies or species. Here we review what is known about pacing behaviour in laboratory rhesus macaques, a common stereotypy in this species. Our review highlights the current lack of understanding of the causal factors underlying pacing behaviour. According to current knowledge, the welfare of pacing macaques could be either better, worse or equivalent to that of non-pacing individuals. It is also unclear whether pacing results from brain abnormalities. Since rhesus macaques are widely used as a model of healthy humans in neuroscience research, determining if pacing behaviour reflects an abnormal brain and/or poor welfare is urgent.