Head Bobbing and Tremors in Dogs
Causes of Idiopathic Head Tremors in Dogs
So, your beloved Boxer wakes up one morning and you suddenly notice something odd and out of place. He is displaying an unusual head movement that seems to come out of nowhere. You call him to you and check his head and ears. Baffled, you keep an eye on him for the rest of the day.
A day after, the episode seems to repeat. This time, the head bobbing is much more evident. Concerned, phone in hand, you decide to give your veterinarian a call.
Is Head Bobbing Part of a Seizure?
Head bobbing is a common occurrence in certain breeds such as Boxers, Dobermans, Cavalier King Charles and Bulldogs. Some cases can be also be observed in mixed breeds. The condition is better known as "Idiopathic Head Bobbing Syndrome". In simple words, head bobbing which cannot be linked to any medical conditions and is in most cases harmless.
It is unfortunate though, that more often than not, veterinarians treat such cases as seizures, prescribing Phenobarbital or Potassium Bromide. In cases of Idiopathic head bobbing, such medications do no good, because the syndrome is not related in any way to seizure activity. Affected dogs therefore, will not benefit from such medications and may actually develop unpleasant side effects from such medications.
While the syndrome may look strange, it is generally not harmful and most dogs have happy, satisfied lives in spite of the occasional tremor. Typically, the head bobbing bothers the human observer more than the dog. However, your dog should still see the vet should your dog lose consciousness or show other signs of neurological damage. If he seems unresponsive and will not raise his head when you call his name it could signal an uncontrollable seizure.
Possible Causes of Idiopathic Head Tremor
Most dogs will suffer from episodic attacks. They may be symptom-free for weeks or hours and then the head bobbing will return just as before. The head bobbing also seems to subside when the dog is busy doing an activity such as eating or playing.
Low Glucose Levels
In some cases, head bobbing may be associated with low glucose levels in the blood. This may occur in lactating dogs, who may have lowered glucose/calcium levels. Head bobbing may also be due to hormonal fluctuations, which can result in more visible head bobbing during estrus. If related to low glucose levels, rubbing some Karo syrup or honey on the dog's gums should minimize the head bobbing.
Puppies have on occasion shown head bobbing episodes as well as their calcium levels are low as well during their development.
In some cases episodes of head bobbing have been linked to the administration of heartworm medication. While there may be a link, no thorough studies seem to have been done as of yet to suggest this as a possibility.
The Bottom Line
Any case of head bobbing should be thoroughly investigated to rule out any other more serious causes such as tumors or head injuries. Normally, blood-work, an MRI and/or an analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid will suffice. However, consulting with a neurologist may be helpful.
While annoying, most Idiopathic head bobbing cases do better if left alone. In some cases, veterinarians may recommend supplements. Most dogs live just fine with the syndrome and adjust accordingly, leading still a good quality of life.