Why Does My Dog Keep Shaking His Head?
Every canine friend will shake their head from time to time.
Though this is a normal behavior when done on occasion, constant head shaking can point to an underlying issue.
Our dogs cannot easily tend to irritation on their head, causing them to shake in effort to relive their discomfort.
So what could be the cause of your dog’s constant head shaking?
We will talk about what causes a dog to shake their head and what you can do to help them.
Understanding Head Shaking In Dogs
Before we discuss the potential cause of your dog’s head shaking, it’s important to understand the behavior of head shaking in itself.
Our dogs lack the dexterity to scratch or address pain in many parts of their body, leading to the need for another alternative.
Simply scratching an uncomfortable area on their head or ear is not as simple as it is for you and I, so they often turn to head shaking.
A dog that shakes their head may be trying to resolve itching on their face, pain within their ear, the feeling of something foreign in their ear, and everything in between.
Head shaking is typically your dog’s way of attempting to relieve some form of discomfort they feel above the neck.
When Should My Dog’s Head Shaking Concern Me?
As we mentioned above, head shaking in your dog can be completely normal in certain situations.
For example, if your dog is shaking their head after enjoying a quick swim, the occasional head shake in the hours following is to be expected.
An occasional head shake that is not repetitive can also be normal, as our pups can experience an itch on their skin from time to time.
While occasional head shaking can be nothing of concern, constant head shaking should always be taken seriously.
A dog that is shaking their head frequently is telling you that they are trying to relive some form of discomfort, whether it is a simple itch or severe pain.
If you notice your pup shaking their head multiple times throughout the day, it’s time to have them seen by your vet.
6 Common Causes Of Head Shaking In Dogs
Now that you understand the behavior of head shaking in our canine companions, we can begin to discuss some of the potential causes of this habit below.
To help you get to the bottom of your dog’s constant head shaking, let’s list a few of the conditions that are often behind this behavior.
Ear infections are the most common cause of head shaking in our furry friends.
Dogs can develop ear infections due to bacterial or yeast overgrowth, leading to an array of uncomfortable symptoms to follow.
The severe itching and pain associated with an ear infection can cause a dog significant discomfort, leading to constant head shaking in attempts to find relief.
Dogs with an ear infection may also experience redness of the pinna, pawing at the face, odor of the ears, and even rubbing their faces on the ground.
These infections can be excruciating for our beloved pups, as they may not display obvious symptoms until their infection is severe.
Not only can the ear infection in itself be painful, but the constant shaking of the head can lead to even more trauma.
Your vet can typically diagnose an ear infection with a simple examination of the ear canal, as well as an examination of an ear swab under a microscope.
Your veterinarian can then prescribe the right medication based on the bacteria that is present within the ears.
Fleas are another common cause of head shaking in dogs.
While most fleas will not reside within your dog’s ears, they can certainly run across their face and leave irritation in their path.
Not only can the presence of fleas crawling across your dog’s skin cause them to shake their head, but so can a potential allergic reaction known as flea allergy dermatitis.
Flea allergies develop when a dog’s immune system reacts to the flea bite, leading to severe itching and secondary infections.
Flea allergy dermatitis can also lead to ear infections if the skin irritation is not addressed quickly, as the chronic skin inflammation can be a catalyst for growing bacteria.
If you fear that your dog has fleas, we suggest reaching out to your vet to discuss proper flea and tick control going forward.
Your vet can also address any secondary skin or ear infections with a physical exam, and can get them started on antibiotics if needed.
As we mentioned above, allergies can cause an array of complications for the dog affected.
Dogs can experience allergies to plant material in the environment, certain ingredients in the food they eat, and materials that come in contact with their skin.
No matter the exact cause of your dog’s allergies, significant skin irritation is often a common symptom.
Not only can the skin irritation from allergies cause a dog to shake their head in search of comfort, but so can the secondary ear infections that occur.
The inflammation from skin allergies can cause bacteria and yeast to replicate within the ears, leading to a cycle of chronic ear infections and pain.
Dogs with allergies can experience:
- itchy skin
- ear infections
- redness of the skin
- fur loss
- eye discharge
- nasal discharge
- GI upset
- and even weight loss.
If you think your pup is suffering from canine allergies, we suggest reaching out to your veterinarian for guidance.
They can not only examine their skin and ears for evidence of allergies, but can determine the best treatment plan for your dog based on their symptoms.
Some of the standard treatment options for canine allergies include daily antihistamine, monthly allergy injections, oral medications to control itching, ectoparasite treatment, and even elimination diets.
Ear hematomas often develop as a result of ear infections in dogs, but they can certainly lead to additional head shaking when they develop.
Ear hematomas develop due to trauma to the vessels within the ear, leading to a collection of blood in the pinna.
Though the most common cause of ear hematomas is head shaking to begin with, dogs with an ear hematoma will shake their head even more than before.
Ear hematomas are extremely painful for our canine friends, and will cause a dog to shake their head in search of relief.
They may also paw at their face, rub their head on the ground, and even lean their head to one side.
These symptoms will continue until the ear hematoma is addressed by your veterinarian.
Due to how painful ear hematomas can be, we always suggest contacting your vet at the first sign of swelling of the pinna (outer ear).
Your vet will determine the best treatment approach based on the severity of their case.
The most common treatment option involves lancing the ear hematoma under general anesthesia and placing multiple sutures throughout the pinna.
Ear Foreign Bodies
Another factor behind head shaking in dogs is the presence of a foreign body in the ear.
Dogs can easily get items stuck in their ear canal, ranging from blades of grass to foxtails.
The feeling of having a foreign item in their ear can cause a dog extreme discomfort, often shaking their head in attempts to resolve the sensation.
Dogs with ear foreign bodies will not only shake their heads, but they will typically display other signs of distress as well.
These pups may paw at their ears, rub their face on the ground, whine, and appear extremely restless.
Dogs with ear foreign bodies may also be sensitive when you attempt to peek into their ear, as the foreign body could be causing significant pain.
If you think your dog may have something stuck in their ear, we suggest reaching out to your vet as soon as possible.
Your veterinarian can examine their ear thoroughly in search of anything abnormal, and can determine the best plan of action to remove the foreign body safely.
Though this is the most uncommon cause of head shaking in dogs, neurological disorders can cause strange symptoms in our canine friends as well.
For example, a neurological condition known as vestibular disease can cause our pups to lean their heads in one direction, even shaking their head from side to side in some cases.
Neurological disorders can cause our dogs to feel unsteady on their feet, and head shaking can be displayed when this happens.
Neurological disorders in dogs can lead to changes in behavior, changes in gait, muscle tremors, seizures, vocalizations, and virtually any other change in their normal actions.
If you fear a neurological disorder in your dog, we suggest reaching out to your vet immediately for further guidance.
Diagnosing The Cause Of Head Shaking In Dogs
If you take your dog to the vet’s office for shaking their head, there are a few diagnostic options they may turn to based on your dog’s situation.
Some of the most common diagnostic tools for head shaking in dogs include:
- Physical exam
- Examination of the ears
- Ear cytology
- Skin scraping
- Allergy testing
Every case will vary, and the diagnostic options may differ based on your dog’s specific symptoms and overall health.
We suggest always following the guidance of your veterinarian when getting to the bottom of their head shaking.
Occasional head shaking can be a normal behavior in our furry friends, but constant head shaking should always be explored by your veterinarian.
Head shaking is often a sign of discomfort in some form, so it’s best to get to the bottom of your dog’s symptoms as soon as possible.
My name is Amber. I am a dedicated animal lover that turned my passion into my career. I am a Licensed Vet Tech with 10 years of experience in veterinary medicine, but I recently took my career online to help spread accurate information on animal care. With how vast the online world is, I have a strong desire to ensure that the reader always walks away with helpful pet advice. With the experience I’ve gained from my time in this field, I have been able to travel the world, offering my services to as many animal rescues as I can find. If I am not at my laptop, or back home visiting family, you can find me somewhere in the world, cuddling every furry friend that I can find! Read more about us here.