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Why does my dog keep shaking his head?

Has your dog been shaking her head lately, leaving you at a loss as to why? In this post, our Mechanicsburg vets share what you should do if you notice your dog is shaking their head, when to go to your vet, and more. 

Why do dogs shake their heads?

If your dog keeps shaking their head, this might be perfectly normal behavior for your canine friend - if it only happens infrequently. 

Dogs may use headshaking as an effective way to expel irritants from their ears. 

When should I be concerned about my dog's head shaking?

There is probably nothing to worry about if your dog shakes their head once or twice and then stops. If your dog's head is shaking frequently and violently, it's time to take them to the vet for an examination.

Common Reasons Dogs Shake Their Heads

Once diagnosed, your veterinarian can easily treat some of the most common causes of head shaking in dogs. However, if left untreated, ear conditions can quickly progress to more serious issues. The following are some of the most common causes of head shaking:

Yeast & Bacterial Infections in the Ear

Ear infection is the most common cause of excessive head shaking in dogs. These infections itch and cause a lot of inflammation and discharge, causing the dog to shake her head. Look for redness, discharge, or swelling in your dog's ear flap. In this case, an infection is very likely. Ear mite infestations can cause similar symptoms, but they are less common in dogs than yeast or bacterial infections (especially in adult dogs).

Remember that infections may happen deep in a dog's ear, so even if you don't see obvious signs of one an infection may still be present. 

Water in the Ears

Avoid this by inserting cotton balls (or half a cotton ball for small breeds) into your canine companion's ears before swimming or bathing. Avoid dumping or spraying water directly on your dog's head when bathing him. Instead, bathe her from the neck down and clean her ears and face with a damp washcloth.

If your dog won't tolerate cotton balls in her ears while swimming, consider cleaning the ears afterward with a drying solution. Based on your dog's specific needs, your veterinarian may be able to recommend a safe, effective product. Consider wearing an ear band as well.

Allergies Causing Itchiness in the Ear

Another frequent problem that causes dogs to shake their heads is allergies. A food allergy or environmental triggers (such as dust, pollen, storage mites, mold spores, etc.) could be affecting your dog. When a dog has allergies, they may exhibit a variety of signs, such as hair loss, itchy skin, recurrent ear and skin infections, head shaking, ear-scratching, face-rubbing, or foot-chewing.

A veterinarian will frequently recommend a diet for your dog that includes one carbohydrate (such as potato or rice) and one protein source that the dog has never had before (such as venison or duck) or that has been hydrolyzed (broken down into tiny, non-allergenic pieces). For a month or two, the dog must only eat this food. A food allergy is most likely the cause if symptoms improve significantly or disappear completely.

Serious Conditions Associated with Head Shaking

Other health conditions that may cause dogs to shake their heads excessively include inflammatory diseases, foreign objects that get lodged in the ear canal, or neurologic disorders that lead to head tremors (sometimes easily confused with head shaking). 

If your dog has recurrent ear infections, the underlying cause needs to be diagnosed by your veterinarian. The cause may be anatomical abnormalities, hypothyroidism, allergies, or something else. 

Determining the cause of head shaking is critical for a dog's long-term health because it may indicate a more serious problem. Furthermore, particularly ferocious or persistent head shaking may cause blood vessels inside a dog's ear flap to rupture. We should be preventing excessive head shaking rather than just treating it when it occurs, as the resulting aural hematomas frequently necessitate surgery to correct.

What to Do if Your Dog is Shaking Their Head

Head shaking can be caused by or lead to minor or severe health issues in dogs. 

It's key for your vet to diagnose the specific cause of your dog's head shaking early so the issue can be treated before it becomes a more serious problem.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you concerned about your dog's head shaking? Has your vet deemed it an emergency? Please do not hesitate to contact our vets in Mechanicsburg right away.

Walk-in Patients Welcome

At Rossmoyne Animal Emergency Trauma Center you never need an appointment to access our full complement of emergency services. We treat both walk-in patients and referrals for urgent veterinary care.

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Contact (717) 796-2334