Why My Dog Constantly Shaking Head?

Why My Dog Constantly Shaking Head?

If you've noticed your dog constantly shaking their head, it's an issue that shouldn't be ignored. Persistent head shaking is often a sign that your pup is experiencing ear pain, discomfort, or irritation, which could indicate an underlying health problem that needs addressing. Failing to get it checked out could lead to further complications, so it's best to get to the root of the issue promptly.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ear infections are the most common cause of excessive head shaking in dogs
  • Allergies, water in the ears, and foreign objects can also lead to head shaking
  • Some neurological conditions like idiopathic head tremors may look like head shaking
  • Letting the issue go untreated can lead to ruptured blood vessels and painful hematomas
  • See your vet if head shaking persists for proper diagnosis and treatment

Head shaking is a dog's natural way to get rid of irritants, allergens, water, or foreign objects from inside their ears and ear canals. While occasional head shakes are normal behavior, constant and vigorous head shaking usually signifies a more serious issue that requires veterinary attention.

Common Causes of Head Shaking in Dogs

white and brown short coated dog on green grass field during daytime
Photo by Luke Jones / Unsplash

Ear Infections

The most common reason dogs constantly shake their heads is due to an ear infection caused by bacteria, yeast or fungi. Ear infections make the ear canal feel itchy, inflamed and painful, triggering the head shaking response as your dog tries to get relief.

Signs of an ear infection include:

  • Vigorous head shaking
  • Scratching at the ears
  • Brown, yellow or bloody discharge
  • Odor from the ears
  • Redness and swelling of the ear canal
  • Head tilting

Your vet can examine your dog's ears and prescribe medication to clear up the infection and provide relief.

Allergies

Like humans, dogs can suffer from environmental or food allergies that cause their ears and skin to become itchy and inflamed. This irritation often leads to head shaking as your dog tries to scratch the itch.

Other allergy symptoms include:

  • Excessive scratching
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Sneezing and nasal congestion
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Red, inflamed skin

Your vet can perform allergy testing and recommend treatments like antihistamines, immunotherapy or elimination diets.

Water in the Ears

If your dog loves swimming or you bathe them frequently, getting water trapped in their ears could be the culprit for the head shaking. Water stuck in the ear canal can cause irritation, pain and a sensation of fullness that makes dogs shake to try and get the water out.

To prevent this, you can:

  • Place cotton balls or vet-approved ear protection in their ears before bath time or swimming
  • Gently dry their outer ear with a towel after water exposure
  • Use a veterinarian-recommended ear drying solution

As long as it's only water and not a bacterial infection, the head shaking should stop once their ears are properly dried out.

Foreign Objects Stuck in the Ear

Dogs are curious creatures who frequently stick their noses and ears where they don't belong! Seeds, grass, dirt, and even insects can easily become lodged in a dog's ear canal, blocking the ear and causing irritation that triggers intense head shaking.

Don't try removing objects yourself, as you could push them further into the ear canal. Your vet has special tools to safely remove foreign objects from your dog's ears.

Ear Mites

While more common in cats and puppies with undeveloped immune systems, ear mites can also infect adult dogs. These tiny parasites live in the ear canal feeding on ear wax and skin oils, causing intense itching.

Signs of ear mites include:

  • Excessive head shaking and scratching at ears
  • Coffee ground-like debris in the ears
  • Foul odor from the ears
  • Inflammation and irritation of the ear canal

Your vet can prescribe medication to eliminate the mites and provide relief.

Neurological Conditions

Certain neurological disorders like idiopathic head tremors, vestibular disease, or injuries/infections affecting the brain or nervous system can sometimes cause involuntary head shaking or bobbing in dogs that may appear similar to voluntary head shaking.

These conditions often present with other symptoms like circling, loss of coordination, eye flickering or head tilting. Your vet may recommend further testing and consulting a veterinary neurologist.

When to See the Vet

While some occasional head shaking is normal dog behavior, persistent and vigorous head shaking that does not resolve within a day or so warrants a visit to your veterinarian.

Leaving head shaking untreated can lead to aural hematomas - painful swollen pockets of blood on the ear flap caused by vigorously shaking and scratching that rupture blood vessels. Hematomas often require surgical draining and can lead to permanent disfigurement if not treated promptly.

Excessive head shaking can also worsen existing issues like ear infections by further damaging sensitive inner ear structures. So it's best to get your dog checked out right away rather than waiting and hoping the problem resolves on its own.

How Vets Diagnose Head Shaking

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When you take your dog to the vet for head shaking, they will perform a full physical exam, with close inspection of the ears using an otoscope or video otoscope. Depending on their initial findings, they may also:

  • Take a swab sample to check for bacterial, fungal or yeast infections
  • Test for ear mites
  • Perform skin testing for allergies
  • Prescribe medication trials to rule out food allergies
  • Recommend more advanced diagnostics like CT scans or referral to a veterinary neurologist if a neurological condition is suspected

Getting an accurate diagnosis is key, as treatment will vary significantly depending on the underlying cause.

Treating Head Shaking in Dogs

Treatment for a dog's head shaking depends entirely on the diagnosis from your veterinarian. However, some common treatment approaches include:

  • Oral antibiotics, antifungals or anti-inflammatory medication
  • Topical ear cleaners and solutions
  • Anti-parasitic medication for ear mites
  • Steroids or immunotherapy for allergies
  • Special allergen-free diets for food allergies
  • Surgery to drain aural hematomas
  • Physical therapy or other treatments for neurological conditions

No matter the treatment, it's important to follow all of your vet's instructions to resolve the issue and prevent it from recurring or worsening.

Consulting a Veterinary Specialist

In some cases, your regular veterinarian may recommend consulting a veterinary specialist if the cause of your dog's head shaking is not readily apparent or if the condition is severe or recurring. Veterinary dermatologists can help diagnose and treat allergies or skin conditions affecting the ears, while veterinary neurologists can evaluate and manage neurological disorders that may be causing involuntary head shaking or tremors.

Home Remedies for Head Shaking

While home treatments can provide temporary relief, they will not cure or address the root cause of persistent head shaking. However, some safe home remedies to try while awaiting your vet appointment include:

  • Gently cleaning out the outer ear with a vet-approved solution
  • Applying a cold compress to the ear to reduce swelling and irritation
  • Using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or anti-itch medications approved by your vet
  • Putting your dog's regular food into rotation to see if their current diet is causing allergies

That said, once your dog is shaking their head repeatedly and refusing to stop for more than a day, you should make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I stop my dog from shaking their head?

The only way to truly stop a dog's excessive head shaking is to identify and treat the underlying cause - whether that's an ear infection, allergies, foreign object, etc. Home remedies may provide temporary relief, but veterinary intervention is needed to resolve the issue completely.

Can ear mites cause head shaking in dogs?

Yes, ear mite infestations in dogs typically cause intense itching and irritation that makes dogs shake their heads excessively in an attempt to get relief from the discomfort.

Why does my dog keep shaking his head and scratching his ear?

Head shaking and scratching at the ears are common signs of an ear infection or condition affecting the ears like ear mites or a stuck foreign object. See your vet promptly to identify and treat the issue.

Is dog head shaking a neurological issue?

In some cases, involuntary head shaking or bobbing in dogs can potentially indicate a neurological disorder like idiopathic head tremors. However, most head shaking stems from irritation within the ear itself. Your vet can determine if your dog's head shaking has a neurological cause.

Conclusion

While occasional head shaking is perfectly normal dog behavior, persistent and vigorous head shaking should not be ignored, as it indicates an underlying problem that needs veterinary attention. The most common causes of excessive head shaking range from ear infections and allergies to neurological conditions.

Leaving head shaking untreated can lead to further complications like ruptured blood vessels in the ear (causing painful hematomas) or worsening infections. So if your dog just won't stop shaking their head after a day or so, it's time for a trip to the vet.

During your appointment, your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam and closely inspect your dog's ears. Depending on their initial findings, they may also take ear swabs, conduct allergy testing, or recommend more advanced diagnostics if they suspect a neurological issue. In some cases, your vet may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist or neurologist for specialized care.

Getting an accurate diagnosis is crucial, as treatment will vary significantly based on the underlying cause. Common treatments include oral and topical medications for infections, anti-parasitics for ear mites, immunotherapy or special diets for allergies, and surgical or medical management of neurological conditions.

While some home remedies like cold compresses or vet-approved cleaners can provide temporary relief, they won't cure the root issue causing your dog's head shaking. But they can help keep your pup comfortable until you're able to get veterinary treatment.

The bottom line is, if your dog's head shaking persists for more than a day and won't let up, don't wait - see your vet right away. Excessive head shaking is your pup's way of telling you something is really bothering them. With your vet's help, you can get to the bottom of the problem and get your dog the relief they need.