Why is My Dog Shaking Its Head? 8 Possible Causes
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Dogs will often shake their heads to dislodge something that’s stuck or itch a scratch. But while sometimes a dog shaking its head is benign, in other cases it can signify a more serious issue.
Even the simpler causes of dog head shaking, like ear infections, can cause pain and discomfort, so it’s important to monitor this behavior and stay on top of their care. If your dog shows any signs of discomfort or prolonged head shaking, it’s time to see a veterinarian.
There are a variety of potential causes of head shaking in dogs. Here are the top 8 reasons:
1. Food or Environmental Allergies
Dogs may shake their head due to itchiness inside their ears. Just like people, dogs can suffer from a variety of food or environmental allergies to things like dust, pollen, or molds.
A dog shaking their head because of an allergy may also show other allergy symptoms. Be on the lookout for itchy skin and repeated scratching or rubbing in addition to head shaking.
Dog allergies can be identified through skin testing, blood testing, or diet elimination trials. If your dog is diagnosed with an allergy, your veterinarian will be able to reduce your pet’s symptoms and discomfort, as well as provide a long-term treatment plan.
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2. Foreign Objects
Sometimes while your dog is playing or rummaging around outside, an object like grass seeds or other plant debris may get stuck in their ear canal. In these situations, excessive head shaking is an indication that they are trying to remove the object from their ear.
Even if you can see the object in your dog’s ear canal, do not make any attempt to remove it yourself. You may end up lodging it deeper in your dog’s ear or causing damage to their hearing.
3. Water in the Ears
Excessive dog head shaking may also be caused by water trapped in their ears after a swim or bath. This condition is easily preventable with a pet approved shower cap placed over their ears before any water activities. When bathing your dog, take care not to spray or pour water into their ears, instead carefully cleaning their head with a damp washcloth or brush.
Treatment for water in your dog’s ears includes administering a drying solution after exposure to water to reduce extra moisture within the ear canals. Any treatment should always be under a veterinarian’s care.
4. Ear Infections
Ear infections caused by bacteria or yeast are a common cause of dog head shaking. If your dog’s ears seem red and inflamed, have discharge, or an odor, an infection is most likely causing them discomfort.
Dogs exhibiting these symptoms should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately, as they are most likely feeling uncomfortable already. Untreated infections can also progress rapidly, causing more severe health issues for your pup.
5. Ear Mites
If your dog is constantly shaking its head, they may be suffering from a parasitic infection of ear mites. Although, not as common as bacterial or yeast infections, mites infest your dog’s ear canals, causing itchiness and discomfort.
They may be visible if you look into your dog’s ears, although you shouldn’t try to remove them yourself.
Any time spent outside and in the woods means that your dog may be prone to getting ticks. These small pests burrow into your dog’s skin and may have ended up in or around your dog’s ear, causing itchiness and discomfort.
Conduct a thorough exam of the area around their ears and look for a small insect partially burrowed into their skin.
Ticks can also carry a host of diseases, so it’s important to remove them as soon as possible.
In some cases, you can treat your dog’s tick bite yourself. If the tick is too deeply burrowed to pull out intact, do not attempt to remove it yourself, as improper removal can lead to serious infection.
On some occasions, dogs will develop tumors in or around their ears, which can cause pain or discomfort. If you have an older dog who won’t stop shaking their head, they may have a benign or cancerous tumor.
Schedule a consultation with a veterinarian to screen for tumors. We may perform or order diagnostic testing like otoscopy, x-rays, scans, or biopsies to determine if your pup has a growth and what type of tumor they may have.
8. Neurological Conditions
Older dogs in particular may experience sudden or progressive loss of balance caused by a neurological condition.
A common condition, vestibular disease, appears suddenly and can lead to head shaking, lack of coordination, stumbling, and falling over. While frightening, this condition typically starts to improve in a matter of days.
Most dogs make a full recovery within several weeks, although many may have a residual small head tilt for the rest of their lives.
Excessive shaking or tremors that can’t be linked to another condition may be due to a different neurological disorder affecting balance or movement. If you’re concerned that your dog may have a neurological condition, your best course of action is to consult a veterinarian for an evaluation and neurological exam.
How Can I Relieve Head Shaking in Dogs?
There isn’t much that pet parents can do at home to resolve head-shaking without consulting with a veterinary expert. Until the cause of head shaking can be determined, we can only offer them love and affection and keep them clean, hydrated, and well-fed.
Even if you think that you’ve identified the cause of your dog’s head shaking, make sure to seek professional advice before administering any medication or treatment.
When to Seek a Veterinarian’s Opinion
If your dog is consistently and vigorously shaking their head more than a few times, they almost certainly need to see a veterinarian. Especially if your pup’s symptoms are accompanied by aggressive scratching, inflammation, or loss of balance, they should be evaluated immediately so that they can receive prompt treatment.
Many causes of dogs shaking their heads excessively are due to problems with their ears, including infections or pest infestations, so quick treatment is essential to ensure that your pet won’t suffer a more severe infection or hearing loss.
A comprehensive exam from a veterinarian should include a close look at your dog’s ear canals for signs of foreign objects, infestations, or infection. Further tests or samples may also be taken to ensure that your pup gets the treatment they need as soon as possible.
If your dog is constantly shaking their head, this may be a sign that something is wrong. It’s important to identify the cause of your pup’s discomfort, explore treatment options to best resolve their symptoms.
If you’re worried about your dog’s excessive head shaking, we’re here to help.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is a head shake different from a "shake off"?
Yes, excessive dog head shaking is different than the standard “shake off”. Persistent, vigorous head shaking is a sign of a health condition while a “shake off” involves the whole body typically seen after swimming or a bath.
Can I fix my dog’s constant head shaking at home?
Generally speaking, dog head shaking can’t be treated at home because it is hard to know what is causing the behavior. It could be due to an infection or infestation, but the correct treatment protocol will be up to your veterinarian. It is never a good idea to diagnose or treat your pet at home without the advice of a professional.