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Head Shaking in Dogs: When to Worry

Has your dog been shaking her head lately, leaving you at a loss as to why? In this post, our Everett 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 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. 

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

If your dog shakes their head once or twice 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 an exam

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. That said, if left untreated, ear conditions can quickly develop into more serious problems. Common causes of head shaking include:

Yeast & Bacterial Infections in the Ear

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. Lift up your dog's ear flap - do you see redness, discharge or swelling? If so, an infection is likely. 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. 

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. You might also consider using an ear band.

Allergies Causing Itchiness in the Ear

Allergies are another common issue that lead to head shaking in dogs. Your pup may be experiencing a food allergy or environmental triggers (mold spores, pollen, storage 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.  

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 - as it can potentially point to a serious problem. 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 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? Please do not hesitate to contact our vets in Everett, WA  right away during our daytime hours, or go to an after-hours animal hospital. 

New Patients Always Welcome!

Looking for a vet in Everett? Whether your pet needs routine wellness exams, surgery, geriatric care or emergency care, we look forward to welcoming you to our family at Broadway Animal Hospital located in Everett. 

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