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Why Won't My Dog Stop Shaking His Head: Should I Worry?

Why Won't My Dog Stop Shaking His Head: Should I Worry?

Your dog could be shaking their head due to an infection, water in their ears, or something else. But what can you do to help your canine companion? Here, our Turlock vets discuss the reasons your dog may be shaking their head and when you should seek emergency care. 

My Dog Keeps Shaking His Head

Your dog may shake their head for many reasons, some of which you need not worry about. However, there are times when head shaking may be attributed to serious health issues. 

In this post, we'll explore common reasons behind head shaking, when this is a concern, and what to do if your dog keeps shaking their head.

Should I be worried about how much my dog is shaking his head? 

If your dog only shakes their head once or twice occasionally, this is likely nothing to worry about However, if your dog is shaking their head aggressively for extended periods, it's time to schedule an examination with your vet. 

What are some of the most common reasons behind dog head shaking? 

Dogs may use headshaking as an effective way to get irritants out of their ears.

A veterinarian can often diagnose and treat some of the most common reasons for head shaking in dogs easily. However, untreated ear conditions can quickly develop into more serious issues. Common causes of head shaking include:

Infections: Bacterial or Yeast

Ear infections are typically the most common cause of head shaking in dogs. These infections tend to get uncomfortably itchy and lead to a significant amount of discharge and inflammation, all of which will prompt a dog to shake their head. 

Lift the affected ear flap - do you see swelling, redness, or discharge? If the answer is yes, your dog likely has an infection. Ear mite infestations can cause similar symptoms. However, these are not as common as yeast or bacterial infections (particularly in adult dogs). 

Keep in mind that infections may occur deep within a dog's ear, so the dog may still have an ear infection even in cases where signs are not obvious. 

Itchy Ears Caused by Allergies

Does your dog suffer from allergies? They may often shake their heads to try to relieve the itchy sensation. An environmental trigger (mold spores, storage mites, dust, pollen, etc,) or food allergy may be bothering your pooch. 

Symptoms of allergies in dogs typically include some combination of itchy skin, recurrent ear and skin infections, head shaking, hair loss, rubbing at the face, scratching at their ears, or chewing on the feet. 

To diagnose a food allergy, a veterinarian will often prescribe a diet containing a single carbohydrate (e.g. rice or potato) for your pup, plus a single source of protein that the dog has never had before (e.g. duck or venison) that's been hydrolyzed (broken down into tiny, non-allergenic pieces). The dog should eat this food exclusively for a month or two. If food allergy symptoms clear up, you and your vet will have discovered the likely cause. 

They Have Water in Their 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. Take precautions to prevent water from going directly into your dog's ears will bathing or swimming. Instead, bathe the body from the neck down and wipe down her ears and face with a damp washcloth. 

Some dogs are not able to put up with the feeling of cotton in their ears. In these cases, you could try using a drying solution once your dog is 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 earband.

What are some more serious causes behind head shaking in dogs?

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 steps should you take if your dog keeps shaking their head?

While some head shaking is nothing to worry about, other times it can be an indication of a serious health concern or a veterinary medical emergency.

The first step will always be to contact your vet to schedule an examination.

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. If your dog keeps shaking his head, scratching at his ears, or if your dog's ears appear red and irritated, your dog may require emergency care

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.

If your regular vet is closed and you are concerned about your dog's headshaking, contact our Turlock vets to book an exam for to let us know you're bringing your pup in for emergency care.

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