Thursday, August 8, 2013

Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Head Shaking

You might have noticed that when talking about symptoms, sometimes a qualifying word is included, such as excessive panting, excessive drinking, excessive head shaking. That is because these are normal behaviors and whether or not there is a problem is a question of degree.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Excessive Head Shaking

Dogs will shake their heads in response to any irritation, such as pain, an itch, a tickle or a bug bite.

If your dog is shaking their head persistently, you need to pay attention and look for a cause.

On our summer walks, JD will shake his head quite often, to fend off bugs. Deer flies in particular seem to like him. I think they know they can drive him nuts. Jasmine was much less concerned about them, she was a bush dog at heart. It was me who was following her around and chasing them off. She didn't seem to care.

The other day, on the way from the farm, JD kept shaking his head.

This was cause for concern and we were going to check his ears when we got home. He kept shaking and shaking ... and then we saw an ant waltz out of his ear. There was our culprit. The shaking stopped.

When an especially mean stray tick got on Jasmine's ear, her instinct was to shake her head. 

(Stray tick because it was one of the only two we ever found at the ranch.)

The bite was painful for Jasmine though, so every time she started to shake her head she'd cry a little, stop and hold her head down, tilted towards the affected ear.

This immediately alerted us to a problem and we found and removed the invader.

When your dog starts shaking their head like that, examine the ears, eyes, head, neck and skin carefully. Pay particularly close attention to the ears.

Some culprits are obvious and easy to deal with. Some require attention of your veterinarian.

A common cause of head shaking is otitis, inflammation of the ear canal. Grass awns, ear mites and other things might be at play but, allergies are also very common causes of ear inflammation.

An inflamed ear makes a great playground for bacteria or yeast. Infection often follows.

If there is redness, swelling, discharge or bad odor to the ears, it's time to see your veterinarian. If pain is involved, see your veterinarian right away. If you have a reason to suspect a foxtail, also don't delay. Those nasty little things can travel throughout your dog's body and cause serious damage.

Some breeds are also susceptible to ear vasculitis, which is inflammation of the blood vessels in the ear flap.

This condition typically comes with thickening of the ear margins, which eventually ulcerate and crust over.

Dogs with balance issues, be it from trauma, stroke, inner ear infection or vestibular syndrome, might shake their heads in an attempt to relieve their symptoms.

Not only is excessive head shaking a symptom of a problem, it can actually be a cause for one as well.

Sometimes a dog can shake their head so much that it will cause the blood vessels in the ear flap to rupture, resulting in a hematoma.

This will look like a swelling of the ear flap. It really is a pocket of blood and it will cause your dog to shake their head even more. Ear hematomas require veterinary attention if they are to heal without permanent disfigurement.

All this refers to voluntary head shaking.

This is what we typically picture as a head shake. There are such  things as involuntary head tremors, which are another story all together.


Further reading:
Head shaking - an ear of an issue!
Why Does My Dog . . . Shake His Head All of the Time?
My Dog is Shaking His Head

Related articles:
Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Panting
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drinking
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Bad Odor 
Symptoms to Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drooling  
What Can Your Dog's Gums And Tongue Tell You? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Coughing

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Do You Know What Your Dog Is Telling You About Their Health?

Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog

An award-winning guide to better understanding what your dog is telling you about their health, Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, is available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.



At August 10, 2013 at 9:10 PM , Blogger Rebekah said...

I just wanted to say I love your blog, and your posts. They are so informative. Head shaking was the first indicator when my big boy had horrible ear infection.

At August 11, 2013 at 12:20 AM , Blogger Jana Rade said...

Thank you so much, Rebekah. Would you like to share your dog's story on my Real-life stories Tuesday?

At April 1, 2016 at 10:26 PM , Blogger Aesa Sullivan said...

My dog stormy is a border collie and she is 3 months old. We keep her outside mostly all the day but we pay bunches of attention on her. Today I went outside and she was very happy but I could tell she was shaking her head just a little bit constantly. I'm not sure which reason that u provided for me is the answer to my dogs problem. I am scared for her becuase she is a puppy

At April 2, 2016 at 8:33 AM , Blogger Jana Rade said...

Well, could be any of the reasons, most likely a bite (are there bugs outside now?) or a foreign body or something. If it hasn't stopped yet, please talk to a vet.

At June 8, 2016 at 5:15 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

My little dog got attacked by two big dogs.I can't see any wounds but she has been shaking her head ever since..

At June 9, 2016 at 11:03 AM , Blogger Jana Rade said...

With or without the presence of visible wounds I'd definitely see a vet after such event. You never know what damage might have been done which isn't readily visible. There can be no visible wound or just a tiny one and yet there can be a lot of damage under the surface. Particularly with two big dogs having their way with one little one.

Do not delay and see a vet.

At December 30, 2016 at 8:07 PM , Blogger Jessie Lopez said...

I have a 1 year old chihuahua that shakes her head quite a lot then she stops for a couple days and then it starts again. I've had her ears cleaned and was told told there is nothing wrong but the shaking continues. Could it be a habit she enjoys?

At December 31, 2016 at 11:31 AM , Blogger Jana Rade said...

You were told by a vet nothing is wrong? I assume they mean ear infection? What area do you live it? Any chance of grass awns and such things? I don't feel that such head-shaking would be an enjoyable habit. I believe there is a reason for it, just have to find it.

At January 3, 2017 at 12:47 AM , Blogger Jessie Lopez said...

She is strictly indoors, even when we take walks I have her in a stroller. We have coyotes and even a hawk that hangout in our area and since she's small I take extra precautions. She doesn't seem to be in pain. and except for head shaking she seems fine. I'm totally confused

At January 3, 2017 at 11:02 AM , Blogger Jana Rade said...

Well, things like ear infections are not an outdoors issue. Foreign bodies are less likely if not playing outside. But SOMETHING is up.

At January 3, 2017 at 4:12 PM , Blogger Jessie Lopez said...

I've had her ears rechecked. They are clean and clear. The vet is baffled because he says there is nothing wrong with her ears. Her shaking isn't as often. Thanks for your input

At January 4, 2017 at 11:05 AM , Blogger Jana Rade said...

That is strange. Infection or foreign body are the most common causes. Something is causing it, though. Any particular time of the day or circumstances under which it happens?

At January 15, 2018 at 8:56 AM , Blogger Jean 1959 said...

I have an Old English Sheepdog that shakes his head frequently when outside in the cold weather. He will continue to shake his head after coming in the house for a while. His ears are clean, no odor, discharge or pain. My last dog did the same thing in the extreme cold weather. Ears are warm to the touch. Could cold weather be a factor?

At January 15, 2018 at 10:54 AM , Blogger Jana Rade said...

I'd imagine the cold weather could be a factor, yes. There are some ear-protective bands or hoodies they make for dogs. Maybe you can try that. As well as I'd look into how good the blood circulation is.

At March 29, 2018 at 11:41 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jessie how is your dog doing, did they figure out what was wrong, my little one is doing the same thing, he has had 2 shots, and a expensive meds put in both ears...nothing is working, actually after he applied the meds in his ears, that is when the shaking started, nothing is helping him, been like this for a week now...he is shaking is a lot..and he goes to town when shaking his head....Help...thank you

At March 29, 2018 at 2:16 PM , Blogger Jana Rade said...

I recommend seeking a consultation with an integrative vet. Additional diagnostic and treatment toolbox; goes a long way particularly when conventional medicine fails to resolve issues.

At July 17, 2018 at 9:57 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Hi I have a bull terrier Chihuahua mix last night at about 5pm I noticed that his right ear was really swollen I kept a close eye on him and the swelling has seem to gone down a. Bit but he's constantly panting and shaking his head when I picked him up he seemed really warm i think it's a bit of some sort not a 100%

At July 18, 2018 at 10:32 AM , Blogger Jana Rade said...

Perhaps got bitten by something? If it was a spider that does require veterinary attention. If there is a foreign body or an infections, that too needs medical help. I would see a vet today.

At December 2, 2018 at 11:32 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

My old girl is nearly 11 medium/large dog the last few days she has been shaking her head on and off and I just went out to check on her b4 I went to bed and she is hot and panting.

It’s cooler outside now but it did get to 30 degrees today, she had 2 clam shells full of water to lye in.

She does have a dirtier ear then the other can’t see any grass seeds but she does have black ears so can’t tell if it’s dirt or wax. She is a digger :-/

At December 2, 2018 at 12:20 PM , Blogger Jana Rade said...

At the very least I'd suspect is ear infection but if there is a fever there might be more going on. either way you want to see a vet.

At February 16, 2019 at 5:09 AM , Blogger Linda Ann said...

I’m very concerned I had my cockapoo groomed today and she is continually shaking her head and very restless. Totally out of character. Looking at her ears I discovered where she had been cut several times with the clippers. What can I do to help her?

At February 16, 2019 at 8:59 PM , Blogger Jana Rade said...

That would bother her for sure. Small cuts should heal on their own but if it's painful you could try polysporin--the one that has lidocaine in it.


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