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  • Writer's pictureClayton Watkins, DVM

Head Shaking in Dogs: 10 Reasons Why Your Dog Might Be Shaking Their Head

Every pet owner is familiar with the sight of a dog shaking its head, perhaps after a roll in the grass or a splash in a puddle. While head shaking is a common behavior in dogs, excessive or intense shaking can be a symptom of underlying issues that may require attention. This guide offers insights into why dogs shake their heads, when you should be concerned, and how VetMed's professional veterinary care can help diagnose and treat conditions that cause head shaking in dogs.

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Why Do Dogs Shake Their Heads?

Dogs shake their heads for various reasons, ranging from simple, innocuous actions to more severe underlying health problems. A shake here and there is usually not a cause for concern; it's a natural way for dogs to clear their ears of moisture or debris. However, frequent or intense head shaking could be a sign that something more serious is going on. It's essential to understand the context in which your dog is shaking its head to make an informed decision about whether or not to seek veterinary care.


10 Reasons Your Dog Might Be Shaking Their Head

Head shaking in dogs can stem from a variety of issues ranging from simple annoyances to more serious health concerns. Below is a more in-depth list to understanding the myriad of reasons why dogs might shake their heads.

1. Ear Infections

When your dog has an ear infection, it can be incredibly uncomfortable for them. The infection creates an itchy and sometimes painful environment inside the ear, prompting your dog to shake its head to find relief.

Symptoms: Redness, swelling, discharge from the ears and foul smell.

What to Do: Immediate veterinary consultation is advised for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Vet Treatment: After a thorough ear examination and possible culture tests, your vet may prescribe a course of antibiotics and medicated ear drops.

Additional Info: Chronic ear infections can lead to severe complications, including hearing loss.

2. Allergies

Just like humans, dogs can suffer from allergies. Whether it's a reaction to pollen, dust, or food, allergies can cause itchiness and discomfort that lead to head shaking.

Symptoms: Itchy skin, constant scratching, licking feet, watery eyes, sneezing, and head shaking.

What to Do: Removal of the allergen from the environment, if identifiable, is the first step. Veterinary consultation is advisable for proper diagnosis.

Vet Treatment: Depending on the severity, antihistamines, corticosteroids, monoclonal antibody therapy (Cytopoint), cytokine inhibitors (Apoquel) and hyposensitization may be prescribed. Intradermal skin testing (allergy) testing in required for hyposensitization. Trial therapy with a hypoallergenic diet may also be tried.

Additional Info: Seasonal allergies can be managed but not entirely prevented. Long-term medication may be required for persistent allergies.

3. Foreign Objects

Dogs are curious creatures and often get small objects like twigs, seeds, or grass stuck in their ears. These foreign bodies can be annoying or even painful, leading to repeated head shaking.

Symptoms: Sudden and intense head shaking, pawing at the ears.

What to Do: Immediate veterinary consultation is crucial. Do not attempt to remove the object at home.

Vet Treatment: Anesthesia is often required to safely remove the foreign object. Post-removal, antibiotic treatment may follow.

Additional Info: Foreign objects can lead to ear infections if not promptly treated.

4. Ear Mites

These tiny parasites are a common issue among dogs and can cause a lot of itchiness. Ear mites will cause your dog to shake its head in an attempt to get rid of the uncomfortable sensation. Ear mite are more common in caths than dogs, but dogs can still get them.

Symptoms: Excessive scratching, and dark discharge from the ears.

What to Do: Veterinary consultation is necessary for a conclusive diagnosis.

Vet Treatment: Treatment often involves topical or oral antiparasitic medications.

Additional Info: All pets in the household may require treatment to prevent cross-infestation.

5. Dry Skin

Just like people, dogs can also suffer from dry, itchy skin. When this affects the ears, it leads to head shaking, as your pet tries to relieve the itchiness and irritation.

Symptoms: Flaky skin, constant scratching, and head shaking.

What to Do: Nutritional supplements can help but consult your vet for a complete diagnosis.

Vet Treatment: Specialized shampoos, ointments, or nutritional supplements may be prescribed.

Additional Info: Environmental factors like low humidity can exacerbate dry skin issues.

6. Water and Soap in Ears

After a bath or a swim, water can get trapped in a dog's ears. The trapped water may lead to bacterial infection, prompting the dog to shake its head vigorously.

Symptoms: Head shaking after swimming or bathing.

What to Do: Do not let soapy water enter the ear canal. Use a drying agent in the ears after swimming. If the problem persists, a vet consultation is needed.

Vet Treatment: Drying agents or medications to prevent or treat infections may be prescribed.

Additional Info: One of the most common causes of inflammation in the ear canals is moisture and the irritating effects of soap.

7. Hematoma

An ear hematoma occurs when blood vessels in the ear flap rupture, usually due to rigorous head shaking or scratching. This condition can be quite painful and causes more head shaking as the dog tries to alleviate the discomfort.

Symptoms: Swelling of the ear flap, persistent head shaking.

What to Do: Immediate vet consultation is recommended.

Vet Treatment: Surgical drainage of the hematoma may be necessary.

Additional Info: Hematomas can reoccur if the underlying cause is not addressed.

8. Impacted Wax

A buildup of earwax can cause your dog to shake its head to try and dislodge the accumulation, much like people might do when experiencing water trapped in their ears.

Symptoms: Brown or yellow discharge, foul smell, shaking head.

What to Do: Veterinary consultation for ear cleaning and possible treatment is advisable.

Vet Treatment: Endoscopic deep cleaning of the ear canals under general anesthesia may be necessary, followed by antibiotic and antiinflammatory topical ear medication.

Additional Info: Routine ear cleaning at home is difficult and never thoroughly cleans the ear canals. Dogs ear canals are long and narrow. Because of their upright position, fluid and debris easily accumulate resulting in bacterial infections.

9. Pain or Discomfort

Apart from ear-related issues, dogs may shake their head due to dental problems, injuries, nasal disease or other forms of physical discomfort. The action is an instinctive response to mitigate the pain they are experiencing.

Symptoms: Random head shaking, pawing at face or mouth, vocalizations.

What to Do: Seek immediate veterinary consultation.

Vet Treatment: Treatment will depend on the root cause but may include pain relief, antibiotics, or surgical interventions.

Additional Info: Dental issues, like periodontal disease, can also cause head shaking and pain.

10. Behavioral Reasons

Sometimes, head shaking may have a behavioral cause rather than a medical one. This could be a symptom of stress, anxiety, or even boredom, and it's often less intense but more frequent.

Symptoms: Occasional head shaking with no other symptoms.

What to Do: Keep an eye on your dog for additional symptoms. If it persists, a vet consultation is advisable.

Vet Treatment: Behavioral consultation may be advised if no medical reasons are found.

Additional Info: Obsessive head shaking without an underlying medical cause could be indicative of a behavioral issue requiring professional intervention.

By gaining a deeper understanding of why your dog might be shaking their head, you can act more effectively to address the issue. Some of these reasons warrant veterinary intervention, while others can be managed through home care under a vet's guidance.


Other Types of Shaking Your Dog Might Do

Apart from head shaking, dogs exhibit other types of shaking that can have various meanings. It's important to differentiate between them to better understand your dog's condition.

Whole-Body Shaking

  • Excitement or Nervousness: Sometimes, your dog may shake its entire body out of sheer excitement or nervousness, especially in new or stimulating environments.

Tail Wagging and Shaking

  • Communication: Dogs communicate with their tails, and vigorous wagging or shaking may indicate excitement, happiness, or even irritation.

Leg Shaking or Trembling

  • Cold Temperature or Old Age: During colder temperatures or as a sign of aging, some dogs might display a mild tremor in their legs.

Facial Tremors

  • Dental Issues or Nausea: Some dogs shake their faces, which could be a sign of dental pain or nausea.

When To Be Concerned About Your Dog Shaking Their Head

Head shaking in dogs is not always a cause for concern. However, there are situations where immediate veterinary attention is important.

  • Persistent Head Shaking: If the head shaking continues for an extended period, it could be a sign of an underlying problem requiring immediate attention.

  • Visible Inflammation or Discharge: Signs of redness, swelling, or discharge from the ears are indicators of potential infections, foreign bodies or parasitic infestations.

  • Behavioral Changes: Sudden lethargy, loss of appetite, or unexplained anxiety combined with head shaking warrants a vet visit.

  • Loud Ear Noises: If you hear squelching or other strange noises when your dog shakes its head, it's best to consult your vet for an accurate diagnosis.

VetMed Specializes in Ear Health For Your Pet

VetMed specializes in diagnosing and treating various conditions that lead to head shaking in dogs. With a team of veterinary professionals, VetMed is equipped to get to the root of the problem and implement an effective treatment plan.

One area of specialty at VetMed is the removal of foreign objects from the ears through endoscopic guidance. This is a common procedure that is both safe and efficient, offering immediate relief to your dog from discomfort or pain. So, whether your dog is shaking their head due to an ear infection, mites, or even a foreign object lodged in their ear, you can trust VetMed to provide top-notch care and solutions tailored specifically to your pet's needs.


Questions You've Asked Us About Head Shaking in Dogs

Still have questions? Contact us here - we promise we'll answer them.

What should I do if my dog keeps shaking his head?

If your dog is persistently shaking his head, it's advisable to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan, as it could be a symptom of an underlying issue like an ear infection, foreign body or allergies.

Should I be worried if my dogs head is shaking?

How can I tell if my dog has an ear infection?

How do dogs get ear mites?

Why is my dog shaking his head but has no ear infection?


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