Has your dog been shaking their head a lot lately, leaving you at a loss as to why? In this post, our Oceanside vets share what you should do if you notice your dog is shaking their head excessively and when to go to your vet.
Why Do Dogs Shake Their Heads?
If your dog keeps shaking their head, this might be a 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.
If your dog shakes their head once or twice and then stops, you likely have nothing to be concerned about. However, if your dog is shaking their head a lot, and doing it persistently and vigorously, it's time to see your vet for a checkup.
Common Reasons Dogs Shake Their Heads
Some of the most common reasons for head shaking in dogs can be easily treated by your veterinarian once diagnosed. Common causes of head shaking include:
Yeast & Bacterial Infections in the Ear
An ear infection is the most frequently diagnosed health issue that causes excessive head shaking in dogs. These infections tend to get itchy and produce a significant amount of inflammation and discharge, all of which will trigger a dog to shake her head. The signs of an ear infection can often be seen by lifting up your dog's ear flap. An ear infection often causes redness, discharge, or swelling. Similar symptoms can be caused by ear mite infestations, but these are not as common as yeast or bacterial infections in dogs (particularly 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.
Allergies Causing Itchiness in the Ear
Allergies are another common issue that leads to head shaking in dogs. Your dog may be experiencing a food allergy or environmental triggers (mold spores, pollen, mites, dust, etc.) Symptoms of allergies in dogs typically include some combination of hair loss, itchy skin, recurrent ear and skin infections, head shaking, scratching at their ears, rubbing at the face, or chewing on the feet.
To diagnose a food allergy, a vet will often prescribe a diet containing a single carbohydrate (e.g. potato or rice) for your canine friend, plus a single source of protein that the dog has never had before (e.g. venison or duck) or that's been hydrolyzed (broken down into tiny, non-allergenic pieces). The dog must eat only this food for a month or two. A food allergy is likely if symptoms significantly improve or disappear altogether.
Water in the Ears
This can easily be prevented by placing cotton balls (or for small breeds, half a cotton ball) in your canine companion's ears before swimming or bathing. Avoid dumping or spraying water directly onto your dog's head while bathing. Instead, bathe the body from the neck down and wipe down 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 with a drying solution after their swim. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a safe, effective product based on your dog's needs.
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.
Diagnosing and addressing the reason for a dog's head shaking is important to their long-term health. It's also critical because especially vigorous or continued head shaking can result in ruptured blood vessels within a dog's ear flap. Aural hematomas that result from this often require surgery to correct, which is why we should be preventing excessive head shaking, not just treating it when it develops.
What to Do if Your Dog is Continuously 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.