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Why does my dog keep shaking his head? 9 Causes, Solutions and when to worry

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Head shaking in dogs

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As a dog owner, you’ve likely observed your furry friend engaging in a variety of behaviors that range from endearing to confusing. One such behavior that often raises concern is persistent head shaking. If you’ve found yourself Googling “why does my dog keep shaking his head,” you’re not alone.

This seemingly mild action can hold vital clues to your dog’s well-being, as it can be indicative of a range of underlying issues. By delving into the potential reasons behind this behavior, we seek to enlighten dog owners on how to interpret their canine companions’ communication, paving the way for proactive care and a deeper understanding of their needs.

Why does my dog keep shaking his head?

9 reasons why your dog keeps shaking their head.

Bacterial and Yeast Infections in the Ear.

Bacterial and yeast infections in a dog’s ears can be quite common.

Causes for Bacterial infections:

Bacterial infections in dog ears are usually caused by the overgrowth of bacteria, typically due to moisture accumulation, allergies, or foreign objects trapped in the ear canal.

Causes for yeast infections:

Yeast infections in dog ears are caused by the overgrowth of yeast, typically the Malassezia species.

Symptoms for bacterial and yeast infections in the ears:

  • Frequent head shaking.
  • Scratching at the ears.
  • Redness and swelling.
  • Unpleasant odor, and discharge.

Excessive head shaking is a common sign of irritation and discomfort caused by these infections. It’s the dog’s way of relieving themselves of the itchiness and discomfort caused by the infection.


Suppose you suspect that your dog has a bacterial or yeast infection in their ears. In that case, it is important to seek veterinary attention. A veterinarian can examine the ears, identify the type of infection, and provide the appropriate treatment. Treatment often involves cleaning the ears thoroughly and administering medication such as ear drops or ointments to eliminate the infection.

How to prevent bacterial and yeast infections in your dog’s ears.

  • keeping them clean and dry is important.
  • Regularly inspecting the ears for signs of redness, swelling, or discharge can help detect and address potential issues early on.
  • Trimming the ear hair can help improve air circulation and reduce the likelihood of moisture accumulation.


Remember, if you notice your dog shaking their head excessively, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and provide proper treatment for the ear infection.

Ear Canals Flooded with Water.

Dogs with pendulous ear types and hairy inner ears (e.g., Spaniels, Setters) tend to retain water more easily after swimming. Moisture left inside can lead to swelling and infection.

Persistent wetness irritates the delicate skin lining the ear canal. Head shaking and pawing at their ears frequently occur, trying to alleviate the discomfort.
Too much moisture breeds bacterial and fungal infections due to the loss of protective earwax layers. Infection causes inflammation and itchiness, leading dogs to shake their heads repeatedly.

Clean your dogs ear immediately after swimming to preventing water entrapment.


Dense Earwax Accumulation.

Overproduction and impaction with thick earwax can plug the ear canal.

Two common reasons for earwax accumulation:

  • Ear mites or chronic outer ear inflammation can increase wax production.
  • Solid debris, thick hair, and foreign material getting trapped can also create wax blockages touching the eardrum.Pressure on the eardrum from large obstructions results in pain and violent head tossing.


Routinely cleaning wax gently under veterinary guidance keeps ears healthy and comfortable for dogs prone to these issues. Controlling wax minimizes this cause of head shaking.

Foreign Objects.


Dogs explore their environments with noses and mouths, sometimes leading to foreign items getting lodged in their ears. Objects like grass awns, seeds, foxtails, dirt, or insects can get stuck in a dog’s ear canal. This leads to irritation, inflammation, and discomfort as the foreign body rubs inside the sensitive ear.


To try and relieve the irritation, dogs will violently shake their heads from side to side. The head shaking is an instinctive reaction to dislodge whatever is stuck in their ears. Foreign material trapped in a dog’s ears is extremely irritating, prompting persistent head shaking, scratching, whimpering, and sometimes even damage and infection if left untreated. While head shaking may seem innocuous, it often indicates a foreign object has become trapped in the ear canal.

Ear Mites.

Ear mites are a very common parasite that can take up residence in a dog’s ears and cause relentless itchiness and irritation. The scientific name for the ear mite most commonly afflicts dogs is Otodectes cynotis.

These microscopic bugs feed on earwax and oils inside the ear canal. As they move around, they deposit eggs and waste, which accumulates as a dark, crumbly residue.

This debris causes inflammation and infection. As the irritation intensifies, dogs feel compelled to shake their heads side-to-side to relieve the uncomfortable itching. The head-shaking behavior can become near constant when ear mites have fully infested the ears.

Other typical symptoms include:

  • reddened ears.
  • dark discharge.
  • crusty buildup.


Dogs may also scratch their ears excessively due to the aggravation. Left untreated, ears can have even more painful secondary infections.

Getting veterinary attention and using prescription ear mite medication is imperative to managing an infestation. Controlling the population of these highly contagious parasites and the infection they cause will stop the relentless head-shaking behavior. Keeping ears clean can help prevent mites from taking hold in the first place.

Tick in Ear.

Ticks are both a nuisance and a health hazard for dogs. These tenacious blood-sucking parasites can occasionally find their way inside a dog’s ear canal when latching on for a meal. Once inside the ear, tick movement and attachment cause inflammation, irritation, itchiness, and pain for dogs. The tick’s biting into the sensitive skin of the ear canal also introduces infection and bacteria.

All this irritation triggers violent head shaking to dislodge the embedded tick. Unlike fleas, ticks embed their mouthparts into the skin and can be difficult to remove once firmly attached. Leaving a tick inside the ear increases the risk of injury and secondary infections developing from bacteria in the tick’s saliva.

Checking a dog’s ears for ticks after time outdoors and removing them with tweezers is important. Signs of head shaking combined with crusty discharge in the ears should raise suspicion that a tick may be lodged inside. Getting prompt veterinary help to remove ticks from ear canals properly will stop both the painful irritation and potential tick-borne diseases from being transmitted to the dog.

9 reasons why your dog keep shaking his head


Allergies.


Allergies in dogs, either environmental or food-based, can manifest in irritating skin and ear symptoms like inflammation, itchiness, and redness. This allergic irritation frequently triggers a dog to shake its head persistently. The head shaking occurs as a dog attempts to relieve annoying itches resulting from their allergies.

Allergy symptoms typically affect areas like the paws, belly, armpits, and ears due to loose skin being more prone to irritation. When a dog’s ears become inflamed from allergic reactions, the sensitization causes chronic discomfort. Head shaking, ear scratching, whimpering, and rubbing are natural reactions to manage the irritation.
Identifying and addressing what is causing the allergic response – whether food ingredients, grass, pollen, dust mites, etc. – is key to calming the irritation fueling head shakes.

Veterinarians can help diagnose allergies and provide medications to relieve ear inflammation until the underlying allergen trigger can be controlled or avoided.

Contact dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis is skin inflammation, irritation, or allergic reaction due to contact with a specific substance. It is very common in dogs. The offending substances that trigger contact dermatitis when they touch the skin can be grooming products, plants, fabrics, carpet chemicals, metals, topical medications, etc.

The skin reaction can range from mild redness and itching to more severe open sores and scabs, depending on the level of allergy response.

Common locations include areas often exposed to potential contact irritants, especially footpads, belly, tail base, eyelids, armpits, and ears.

Some signs to look for include:

  • repetitive scratching or licking at the skin.
  • inflamed or reddened patches,.
  • scale/crust buildup.
  • hair loss in irritated spots.
  • development of secondary skin infection.



How to avoid the trigger substance.

Patch testing, skin scrapings, blood tests, or skin biopsy can help determine the allergen.

Treatment involves antibiotics if infection sets in, medicated baths, oral pills, or injections to control inflammation and itch response.

Preventing contact dermatitis means being aware of what touches the dog’s skin, from shampoos to grass chemicals to carpet powders, removing potential triggers a dog could lie or walk on, and protecting sensitive skin with light clothing.

Tumors.

Several different tumor types can occur in the ear canal, on the earflap, or in the brain, which leads to abnormal head shaking. These include:

Ceruminous gland adenocarcinoma – cancerous tumor of the wax-producing glands that line the ear canal. These often start small but grow larger, distorting the ear anatomy and irritating the ear, resulting in head-flipping motions.

Brain tumors: Different cancerous and noncancerous masses in the brain can potentially spread and impact cranial nerves or parts of the brain that control head movements. Resulting nerve pressure leads to atypical head positions and unintentional shaking.

Basal cell tumors – Skin tumors on the earflap near the base. Although often benign, as it enlarges on the ear’s thin skin, it gets traumatized easily by head gestures, leading to more irritation and head-shaking.

Nerve sheath tumors: Can grow on important balance and facial nerves, interfering with equilibrium and ear muscle control. Head tilt and shaking ensue.

when should I worry?

Any major change in normal head carriage accompanied by persistent head flicks or shakes should raise concern for a neurological tumor as the culprit until proven otherwise.

Getting imaging diagnostics like an MRI, CAT scan, or biopsy of an abnormal ear/skin mass would be the next step toward determining tumor presence and treatment options if cancer is detected. Catching tumors early is key for better outcomes.

Ear polyps (growths inside of the ear canal).


Ear polyps are benign growths that can develop inside a dog’s ear canal. They are usually stem-like growths dangling from the outer ear canal or eardrum. The specific cause is unknown, but inflammation, allergies, and genetics may contribute to tissue changes resulting in polyp formation.

Polyps start small but can grow larger over time, even becoming pedunculated (attached by a stalk).


Typical symptoms include head shaking and scratching at the affected ear. Polyps are not initially painful but can get traumatized and infected from headshakes, leading to discharge and bleeding. Large polyps may impair hearing by blocking the ear canal.

Examination by a veterinarian followed by a biopsy helps confirm benign polyps versus tumors. Surgical removal while polyps are still small prevents future swelling-related issues. Getting polyps tested after removal checks for cancer cells since some growths can become malignant. Treating any underlying inflammation also helps reduce irritation and prevent regrowth after polyp removal.

what are serious medical conditions that can cause or be related to head shaking in dogs?

Vestibular Disease affects the vestibular system and inner ear balance function. Symptoms include head tilt, circling, eye flicking, and persistent head shakes.

Idiopathic Head Tremors – Involuntary muscle contractions resulting in repetitive head bobs or shakes with no known underlying cause. It can last for short episodes or persist long-term.

Encephalitis – Inflammation of the brain, often due to infection or autoimmune Disease. Head tremors and seizures may develop.

Meningoencephalitis – Brain and spinal cord inflammation causing neurologic symptoms like head tremors, circling, personality changes, seizures, and visual deficits.

Idiopathic Epilepsy – Genetic predisposition to seizures. Violent episodes can instigate headshakes post-seizure.

Toxins/Poisons: Ingestion of heavy metals, toxins, or acidic substances can cause neurological tremors and shaking.

Deafness – loss of hearing on one side causes dogs to shake their head as if to indicate an issue detecting sounds.

Facial nerve paralysis – dysfunction of nerves controlling ear muscles leads to ear drop, which prompts head shaking.

Eye issues – some eye conditions manifest with involuntary spasms and head motions.

If head shakes start suddenly, seem painful, or accompany other neurologic symptoms, seeking urgent veterinary care to determine the underlying condition is advised.

Suppose the primary cause of violent head shaking is not diagnosed and treated. In that case, propagation and secondary infections typically follow, meaning increased discomfort, potential hearing loss, drainage, foul odors, further head-shaking motions, and basically declining ear/head health.

The aggravated condition becomes harder to remedy. Quick diagnosis and treatment are key before propagation and secondary infections take hold, resulting in more problems for the dog and costs for the owner. Consistently checking ears and observing head shakes allows early intervention.

Aural hematoma.(secondary infection)


An aural hematoma, sometimes called an ear hematoma or blood blister of the ear flap, refers to a pocket of blood that forms between the ear cartilage and skin, usually on just one ear flap.

what is the main cause for aural hematoma?

Vigorous head shaking and ear scratching, often due to infections, foreign bodies, parasites, or allergies irritating the ear. As the dog shakes, the loose attachment of tissues in the earflap allows blood vessels to rupture and blood to accumulate.


what are the symptoms of aural hematoma?

severe swelling of one earflap appearing suddenly, holding the head tilted, pain, and increased head shaking. If an underlying irritation is not addressed, the fluid buildup can cause the earflap to thicken and droop permanently.

Treatment.

Draining the hematoma through surgery or injection allows the ear to reform to its normal shape as it heals. Anti-inflammatory medication also helps reduce swelling and discomfort. Careful bandaging and taping of the drained earflap helps stabilize tissues while they mend.

When to try home remedies versus seeking veterinary care for head shaking in dogs.

 

Home Remedies are Appropriate if:

  • Head shaking is mild and intermittent.
  • No other symptoms or evidence of infection.
  • Ears appear clean without discharge or foul odor.
  • Your dog lets you gently clean inside ears.
  • Shaking improves with gentle ear cleaning and massage.


Seek Veterinary Attention Immediately if:

  • Violent, non-stop head shaking is observed.
  • Shaking causes loss of balance or inability to stand.
  • Discharge, bleeding, or odor from ears detected.
  • Suspected foreign object lodged in ear canal.
  • A dog is in apparent distress – whining, pawing aggressively at the ears.
  • Fevers, neurological symptoms present.
  • Head tilt, circling, and inability to walk straight develops.


While basic ear cleaning with solutions may help mild cases, uncontrolled head flicking that appears painful or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms warrants medical intervention. Left unchecked, infections can penetrate deeper into the ears and skull cavity.

why does my dog keep shaking his head


Veterinarians can examine the ear closely with an otoscope, rule out underlying structural conditions, provide prescription strength medicated ear treatments, and offer oral medications to resolve more advanced infections, inflammation, and discomfort. Relying on home remedies alone risks progression if an underlying condition is causing persistent head shaking.

Here are some helpful home remedies that may help alleviate mild intermittent head shaking in dogs:

✔️ Gentle Ear Massages: Carefully massaging the base of the ears and outer ear flap can help relax muscles and increase blood flow. Use light pressure and stop if your dog seems uncomfortable. Applying a warm (not hot) compress beforehand enhances comfort.

✔️ Over-the-Counter Ear Cleansers: Gently cleaning debris and wax buildup with non-medicated ear wash solutions for dogs may provide some relief, but avoid using Q-tips, which can penetrate too deeply. Follow package instructions carefully.

✔️ Dietary Changes: If food allergies are a potential trigger, discuss transitioning your dog to a reduced-ingredient dog food diet with your vet. Removing suspected allergens may curtail associated inflammation. Omega fatty acid supplements support skin/ear health.

✔️ Humidity and Skin Soothers: Misting around your dog’s ears and applying aloe vera gel or natural oil rubs can dry out and soothe minor skin irritation that may elicit head flicking. Keep their resting areas less humid.

✔️ Stress and Stimulus Reduction: If anxiety seems to be an influence, minimize environmental chaos, loud noises, and unfamiliar guests and enforce regular daily schedules to promote relaxation. Pheromone plugins may also help calm distressed dogs.

What is the difference between head shake and shake-of?



Head Shake:

  • Repetitive, involuntary side-to-side ear flap flipping, usually in quick bursts.
  • Only the head and neck regions are involved in the movement.
  • Often see pawing at head/ears, discomfort behaviors concurrent.
  • Persists over days, weeks, and months indicative of an underlying issue.


Shake Off:

  • Voluntary body shaking involves the entire body violently twitching.
  • Typically performed after bathing, swimming, or getting wet.
  • Completed within seconds, and normal behavior resumed afterward.
  • Sheds water from fur or maybe a response to anxiety/stress triggers.
  • No behaviors suggest pain or the need for medical intervention.


Both involve shaking motions.

head shakes from ear-specific irritation, merit investigation for infection, foreign objects stuck, etc.

Full-body shakes are merely a self-drying mechanism when dogs get unexpectedly wet.

Differentiating the two allows owners to determine when to pursue the next steps to address probable ear issues causing chronic head flipping versus normal post-bath or water behavior dogs display. Paying attention to accompanying signs gives helpful clues.

other types of dog shaking.

 

Shivering/Trembling:

Dogs can shiver or tremble like humans when they are too cold or frightened. This trembling helps generate body heat.

Muscle Spasms/Cramping:

Involuntary muscle contractions stemming from electrolyte imbalances, overexertion, or neurological problems. Spasms typically last several minutes and then subside.

Hind Leg Shakes:

Uncontrollable rhythmic leg shakes often when in certain positions related to a condition called clonus. Indicates an upper motor neuron problem.

Anxiety:

Nervousness or fear leads some dogs to tremble, pant excessively, pace, and shake in place while standing. Usually, it resolves once the stressor is removed.

Kidney Disease:

Toxins building up in the body due to kidney failure can cause muscle trembling and generalized body weakness over time.

Poison Ingestion:

Exposure to toxins like insecticides, metals, and solvents may elicit involuntary tremors, shaking, and seizures.

In closing, while an occasional head shake is no cause for alarm, persistent or aggressive head shaking in your dog is a clear signal that something isn’t quite right. Through our exploration of the various reasons behind this behavior, from pesky parasites to water in the ear, we understand now that our canine friends communicate discomfort in many ways — head shaking being a significant one. It’s crucial to observe the context, frequency, and accompanying symptoms that come with head shaking to make an informed decision about your next steps.

Always err on the side of caution and opt to consult a veterinarian if your dog’s head shaking persists. Proactive care, routine checks, and immediate action can make all the difference. Remember, our vigilant observation paired with timely veterinary intervention can help keep the tail wagging and prevent the head shaking, ensuring your beloved pet remains happy, healthy, and comfortable.

Picture of MiM

MiM

I decided to create this blog because I wanted to share the joys of being a dog owner with others, as well as provide valuable insights on how best to take care of our beloved four-legged friends.

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