My Dog is Shaking His Head

When it comes to dogs, any minor itch, tickle, irritation, or sting is enough to prompt them to shake a little in order to bring relief. When you see your dog shaking, therefore, it is no big deal. If the shaking persists, however, and it consistently involves one part of your dog's body, it is cause for concern. When it is his head that he keeps shaking, there are a number of distinct possibilities that could be the reason, and some of them may require swift action.

What to Look For

Begin your examination by following the directions outlined in “My Dog's Head Is Tilted”, paying particular attention to your dog's ears. In addition, check your dog's skin carefully for any signs of dryness, irritation, infection, wounds, or parasites. If you notice any one of these, the sooner you treat your dog with the appropriate medication, the better chance he has for a rapid recovery.

What to Do

Here's what to do next:

  • Does your dog have any evidence of an ear infection? Even a mild yeast infection is enough to induce a dog to shake his head frequently. Follow the directions for cleaning your dog's ears in “How to Clean and Treat Your Dog's Dirty and/or Infected Ears” [not available online].
  • Does your dog have any swelling of his ears? Sometimes a dog with an infection or other irritation of his ears shakes his head so much that he bangs it against something, which can cause a blood blister on the ear. This is called an aural hematoma, and it will certainly cause your dog to shake his head even more. This problem usually needs simple surgical intervention.
  • Does your dog have evidence of an injury or infection? The discomfort from a wound or a local infection of any part of your dog's head could cause him to shake his head. Clean and treat the wound or infection, and the shaking may stop.
  • Has your dog recently suffered a head trauma? Trauma to the head can result in a number of problems that might cause a dog to shake his head. If the results of the trauma are not serious, the head shaking should diminish and eventually cease with time.
  • Does your dog's balance seem unstable? Dogs that have balance issues from any source - such as head trauma, stroke, inner ear infection, or vestibular syndrome - will frequently shake their heads to attempt to relieve the symptoms themselves. For more advice on how to proceed, follow the directions in “My Dog Keeps Losing His Balance”.

When to Get the Vet

Has your dog recently gotten into any unusual chemicals or medications? Since many toxins have a direct effect on the nervous system, it is common for exposure to result in abnormal behaviors or neurological symptoms. Some products may even cause temporary blindness. If you know what chemicals or medications your dog has possibly ingested or inhaled, call the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 for immediate advice. Plan to make a trip to the nearest animal emergency facility as well.

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