Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

Head Shaking in Dogs: When to Worry

Head Shaking in Dogs: When to Worry

If your dog has been shaking their head frequently, there are a few causes that may warrant a trip to the vet. In this post, our St. Louis vets discuss why your dog may be shaking their head so much, and when you should go to the vet.

Why is your dog shaking his head so much?

Dogs sometimes shake their heads. This is completely normally normal if it doesn't happen very often.

If your dog has an object or irritant in their ear they will use head shaking as a way to relieve the situation.

Should you be concerned about your dog's head shaking?

An occasional shake of one or two shakes is what we'd consider to be normal. 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 physical exam. 

What are some of the typical reasons for head shaking in dogs?

Your veterinarian should be able to treat nearly all of the potential causes behind head shaking once it has been diagnosed. That said, if left untreated, ear conditions can quickly develop into more serious problems. Common causes of head shaking include:

Infections of the Ear (Bacterial or Yeast)

If your dog is frequently shaking their head, then the likely culprit is an ear infection. 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 your dog's ear flap - do you see redness, discharge, or swelling? If so, an infection is likely. Ear mite infestations can cause similar symptoms, but these are not as common as yeast or bacterial infections in dogs (particularly in adult dogs). 

One thing to keep in mind is that many ear infections will occur deep within the ear canal so you may not be able to see any visible signs just by looking at your dog's ears. Your vet will utilize special tools to help them see further in and provide a proper diagnosis.

Water Trapped in Your Dog's Ear

One of the easiest ways to help prevent water in your dog's ears is to place cotton balls into their ears before they have a bath or go swimming. 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. 

Not all dogs will allow cotton balls in their ears. If this is the case with your pup then you can also use a drying solution in their ears once they are out of the water. 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.

Itchy Ears Caused By Allergies

If your dog is shaking their head often then they may be trying to relieve themselves from the symptoms of allergies. Your pup may be experiencing a food allergy or environmental triggers (mold spores, pollen, storage mites, dust, etc.) Symptoms of dogs' allergies typically include 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). Your dog will eat this food over the course of a month or two and if there has been a noticeable improvement in your dog's symptoms then it was likely a food allergen.

When might head shaking in dogs indicate something more serious?

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 continuous head shaking can result in ruptured blood vessels within a dog's ear flap. Aural hematomas that result from this often require surgery, which is why we should prevent excessive head shaking, not just treat it when it develops.

What to Do if Your Dog Is Shaking Their Head

If your dog is experiencing persistent head shaking it could indicate either a minor or serious health concern. Either way, you should schedule an examination for your dog as soon as possible.

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.

Does your dog shake their head often? Contact our St. Louis vets to schedule an examination today.

Compassionate Emergency Care for Pets

Animal Emergency Clinic is an after-hours emergency animal hospital providing urgent care to cats and dogs from St. Louis and surrounding areas. Contact us right away if you are experiencing a veterinary emergency.

Contact Us