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Why does my dog keep shaking their head?

Is your furry family member repeatedly shaking their head? Today, our Orange County vets delve into the subject of head shaking in dogs, what to do if you notice your dog is shaking their head, and when to head to the vet. 

Why do dogs shake their heads?

Occasional head shaking is a perfectly normal behavior for our canine companions. Head shaking acts as a very effective way for dogs to expel irritants from their ears. But not all head shaking is normal. 

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

If your furry friend shakes their head once or twice then stops, you likely have nothing to be concerned about. However, if your dog is shaking their head repeatedly, and vigorously, it's time to head to your vet's office for an examination

What are the most common reasons for head shaking in dogs?

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.

Some common reasons why your furry friend may be shaking their head are:

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.  

Could head shaking be a sign of something 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 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 should I do if my dog won't stop shaking their head?

Head shaking can be caused by or lead to minor or severe health issues in dogs. Your pup should see a veterinarian as soon as possible to determine the specific cause of their head shaking. Catching developing issues early, when they are most easily treated, can help to prevent the problem from becoming more severe.

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.

At VMSG-OC our emergency vets are available 24/7 to care for your dog. Contact our Orange County vets right away if you are concerned about your dog's head shaking.

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