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Why won't my dog stop shaking his head?

If your dog keeps flopping their head around it they may be experiencing the symptoms of conditions like allergies, external parasites, or in some cases, something more serious. Here, our Rancho Cucamonga vets talk about why your dog keeps shaking their head and when to reach out to your vet.

My Dog Keeps Shaking His Head

There could be a variety of reasons why your dog keeps shaking their head. Some of which can be nothing at all really. While other times the head shaking could be caused by a serious health condition.

Dogs may use headshaking as an effective way to expel irritants from their ears. 

When should you bring your dog to the vet for head shaking?

If you see your dog shake their head every once in a while then you probably don't need to worry. However, if your dog is shaking their head for extended periods and aggressively then you should schedule a veterinary exam.

Reasons Why Your Dog Keeps Shaking Their Head

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:

Bacterial or Yeast Infections

When it comes to head shaking in dogs, ear infections are usually the top cause behind them. 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 the answer is yes then your dog then an infection is likely present. 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 in the cases where the signs are not obvious, the dog may still be experiencing an ear infection.

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 while 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.

Allergic Reactions

If your dog suffers from allergies then head shaking may be a common occurrence as they try to relieve the itchy sensation. 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). For the next month or so, your dog will only eat this food. If the symptoms related to allergies ease up or disappear entirely then a food allergy is the likely culprit.

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.

The first step will always be to contact your vet to schedule an examination. An early diagnosis is vital for ensuring the best possible outcome.

When is head shaking in dogs an emergency? 

Head shaking that is associated with other serious symptoms, or when associated with a traumatic incident, requires urgent treatment. Contact your vet or nearest emergency veterinary hospital if your dog's head shaking is accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • Seizures
  • Bleeding
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Collapse/falling unconscience

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.

Is your dog persistently shaking at their head along with showing other signs of discomfort? Contact our Rancho Cucamonga vets to schedule an examination for your pup.

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Rancho Regional Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Rancho Cucamonga companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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