My Dog's Head is Tilted

A dog with a head tilt is always a concern. It could mean something as simple as a mild to moderate ear infection, or it could be something as serious as a stroke. By gathering a little information through a physical exam and by answering a few questions, you should be able to ascertain why your dog's head is tilted.

What to Look For

Examine your dog carefully, paying closest attention to her ears, eyes, head, and neck. Look for any evidence of infection, including heat, redness, discharge, and foul odor. Feel for signs of tenderness and pain, and observe your dog's pupils for any unusual movement or asymmetry.

What to Do

Answer these questions to figure out what's going on with your dog's tilted head:

  • Does your dog appear to be off balance? Dogs that lose their balance do so either because their equilibrium is off or because their limbs can't support them evenly. Your dog's head tilt suggests the former, so it is important that you explore further.
  • Are your dog's eyes making rapid up and down or back and forth movements? These movements, known as nystagmus, are normal only after your dog has undergone some recent, rapid head movement (but not when she is at rest). If you notice these movements while your dog is at rest, there is a neurological problem that should be assessed at least by your veterinarian, but ideally by a veterinary neurologist.
  • Does your dog have an ear infection? An obvious infection of the external ear should be readily apparent and would lead you to the suspicion that your dog's inner ear might also be affected. Infections of the middle ear (this is behind your dog's eardrum, so you won't always be able to detect such an infection by simply looking in your dog's ear) often cause imbalance. This is because your dog's limbic system, which is responsible for her sense of balance, is located adjacent to the inner ear. Any swelling or inflammation of the tissues in that region may have a direct effect on your dog's sense of balance and, therefore, cause her to tilt her head.

When to Get the Vet

A recent head trauma can result in a variety of side effects that could be responsible for causing a head tilt. All of them are worthy of further investigation and certainly merit an immediate visit with your veterinarian. 

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