Usually, many dog behaviors are not a cause for concern. Certainly, some of these behaviors may not seem reasonable to you as a dog owner, but when they only occur occasionally, there is no need to worry.
Cute gestures such as shaking the head or tilting the head are a different matter. It’s simple to believe that your dog is just her usual adorable self because they’re cute. If the shaking occurs too often, however, there might be something else at play.
Why Do Dogs Shake Their Heads?
Usually, dogs shake their heads when they want to remove something that has been stuck in their ears. Such notable force is generated by this head shakes; you probably know firsthand about this if you’ve managed to get in the way of your dog’s head as she is shaking.
While we human beings scratch our ears when itchy, dog anatomy makes it difficult for them to do that, so they shake their heads for relief. Head shaking generally solves the issue when it is just due to foreign objects.
Head shaking in dogs can be a completely harmless gesture that is not connected to any health issue. Listed below are some reasons for head shaking that you probably shouldn’t worry about:
- Post-bath or post-swim gestures: Dogs shake their heads to drain excess water from their ears after a bath or a swim, in the same way, that we tilt and tap our heads to do so.
- Head shaking only when barking: some owners saw their dogs shake their heads, but only when they bark. In this situation, shaking their head could be just a gesture of excitement, particularly when they’re with someone they love.
- Winning a tugging battle: your dog may want to savor her win with a head shake after winning a rather long tugging fight. When she bites her other toys, she may also like to shake her head. It’s likely just her doggy instincts since her ancestors even shake off small prey with their mouths.
- Head tilting while you’re talking: this is likely one of the dogs ‘ cutest things ever. It is as if they’re curious about what you’re saying. Chances are, they might be, and they want their ears to be adjusted so they can hear you better!
But what if you think that your dog’s head shaking is no longer just a cute behavior, like the things mentioned above? Well, you might want to check your dog’s ears to see if the problem lies there.
If you haven’t discovered anything yet she’s still shaking her head, the ears may get irritated or it may be a total different underlying disorder. Schedule veterinarian’s appointment immediately so that you can check the real cause and develop a suitable treatment plan.
Problematic Causes of Head Shaking in Dogs
Dog head shaking can be a telltale sign of various health problems. None of these will go away on their own, so it’s best to have your dog checked before things get worse. Here are the most common diagnoses for head shaking in dogs:
1. Ear Infections
Most often, ear infections cause head shaking in dogs. For your dog, these can be very itchy and uncomfortable, and can sometimes lead to inflammation and discharge. Besides shaking of your dog’s head, your dog will also paw at the affected ear to scratch it.
Bacteria and fungi are the usual culprits of ear infections. Certain factors increase a dog’s risk of getting ear infections, such as:
- Dog breed: Floppy-eared pooches like Basset hounds, spaniels, retrievers, beagles, and dachshunds are more susceptible to ear infections. Floppy ear anatomy offers a darker and more moister atmosphere that enables yeast and bacteria to flourish without effort.
- Lifestyle: Dogs with active lifestyles (e.g. swimming, hiking) are more likely to get across contaminants that can lead to ear infections. Make sure you clean your dog’s ears regularly, particularly when you frequently take it out.
Aside from head shaking, here are other signs that can help confirm that your dog is indeed dealing with ear issues:
- Ear scratching
- Ear swelling
- Ear discharge (brown, bloody)
- Unpleasant ear odors
- Rubbing her ears on the floor or the furniture
2. Excessive Earwax
Dogs that are constantly stressed or are dealing with recurrent ear infections tend to have more earwax. Excessive earwax can lead to bacterial or fungal infections, and may also cause balance problems.
3. Canine Parasites
Ear mites, ticks, and fleas can also irritate the ears of your dog. Although you can check out for tick and flea medicines out there, it is still advisable to ask your veterinarian about the best alternative to be on the safe side.
4. Allergic Reactions
Another cause of ear irritation is food and environmental allergies. Since the symptoms of both types of allergies are similar, you must go to the veterinarian to find out precisely what the trigger is.
5. Object Lodged in Ear
If you just took your dog out for a hike or a stroll in the forest, wild grass or twigs may have entered her ears. Wild grass has sharp bristles that can rupture the inner ear of your dog if she can’t get it out instantly.
Therefore, checking the ears of your dog after your outing is a good preventive measure. Whining and tilting of the head may also be indications that an object may have lodged in your pooch’s ear.
6. Growth or Polyps
Your dog may have abnormal growths or polyps in her ear canal as well. Typically, these growths connect to the lining of the ear. On the other hand, polyps are usually triggered by the same earwax-producing glands.
7. Aural Hematoma
This is a buildup of blood between the cartilage of the ear and the skin around it. This usually appears on the ear of your dog as a soft, pillow-like fluid lump. An aural hematoma is commonly caused by stress or ear trauma.
Unfortunately, they may also appear randomly without any obvious reason. While hematomas usually cause dogs to shake their heads, the shaking sadly worsens it. So make sure you take your dog to the vet when you notice a bump on her ear to minimize any complications.
8. Head or Neck Injuries
If your dog has suffered an injury in her head and neck regions recently, she may shake her head to relieve the pain. Examine the neck, nape, cheeks, and jowls of your pooch carefully if there are any injuries or swellings. The injuries may have dried up, so your dog might just want to scratch the itchy scabs.
9. Neurological Issues
It is known that certain neurological conditions cause head shakes or tremors. These include concussions, brain lesions, vestibular disease, Wobbler’s disease (degenerative myelopathy), and White Shaker Dog Syndrome. If you see any of the following symptoms in your pooch, go to your vet instantly because of the head-shaking:
- Balance problems
- Running straight into doorjambs
- Trouble standing up
- Aimless walking
For these symptoms, an MRI may be necessary to examine what the root cause might be. It becomes all the more essential to discover how severe the condition is, so you know exactly how to help your dog out.
Examining Your Dog: Questions to Ask Yourself
Your dog will recover much quicker if you know precisely what to look for before you go to the vet. If you’re able to give your vet a full image of your dog’s head shaking episodes, it’ll be much easier for them to get rid of what’s the cause. Here’s a list of issues you need to ask to start examining your dog:
1. Does your pooch have symptoms of an ear infection?
If so, take him to the vet so that she can have her ears professionally cleaned. Then, ask your vet for advice on how you can properly clean your dog’s ears. These hygienic measures should help minimize episodes of problematic head shaking in the future.
2. Do your pooch’s ears look normal? Have you noticed any bumps or swellings?
There are times when excessive shaking of the head can cause your dog to bump its head on something which can then lead to aural hematoma. The original cause of the shaking of the head in this situation just resulted in more reasons for head shaking. Naturally, aural hematoma may go away if it’s not that severe, but a vet should see it before it gets worse.
3. Has your pooch suffered any injuries lately?
Your pooch may have enjoyed your outing too much and went off to places she wasn’t supposed to go. She may have been involved in a friendly playtime that ended up being too rough. Or, she may have gotten into a real fight.
If any of these things mentioned above occurred recently, this might be what’s causing your dog to shake her head. You may sometimes disregard the skin of your dog thinking she looks cute anyway, but dogs are so great at hiding what hurts. She may have suffered could you failed to notice the first time.
4. Has your pooch suffered any recent episodes of head trauma?
Head trauma can lead to other problems that can shake your dog’s head. If the trauma is not serious, the episodes of head shaking may diminish as the days go by. Here you can go for the “wait and see” tactic, but you can take your dog to the vet if you want to be sure there’s nothing to worry about.
5. Does your pooch suddenly have troubles with balance?
Compared to the other symptoms, balance troubles could actually be a sign of a more serious underlying condition. It’s best to waste no time wondering what might be the cause. You don’t want to wait until it may be too late.
Dogs Head Shaking Treatment: What Should You Do?
As we have just learned, head shaking in dogs can be caused by a variety of conditions. Each of these health conditions has their own set of solutions that won’t work on other head-shaking issues.
For instance, the aural hematoma will usually be drained by the vet. In some cases, it may even involve surgery, causing the ear to be mildly deformed afterward. For ear mites, you will need some over-the-counter medications to get rid of them.
The key to treating head shaking in dogs is to treat what is causing it. Head shaking is not bad in itself, but if you know that it isn’t a normal thing for your dog, a vet visit should be able to confirm what you’re dealing with.
Head Shaking or Seizures?
Head injuries and strokes can cause seizures, as well as head, shaking. Dogs typically go into a daze before a seizure and seem confused, which also looks similar to some of the symptoms of the neurological problem. While this is understandably a frightening situation, when this occurs, try your best not to panic.
If you’re unsure whether your pooch is just shaking her head or already having a seizure, get your pet treated immediately. You don’t want to take the risk and wait it out, because seizures can lead to serious brain damage or worse, death.
On the other hand, it could also be just head tremors, which are far less severe than seizures. In any case, it’s best to be mentally and emotionally prepared in these kinds of situations.
Conclusion: Not All Head Shakes Are Cute!
…Or rather, not all head shakes are supposed to be cute. Some are rooted in health problems which could turn serious if not immediately treated.
Indeed, keeping her healthy is the best way to prevent your dog from shaking her head. If you can keep away most health issues, your dog wouldn’t need to shake her head for comfort.