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Causes and Solutions for Dog Head Shaking

Updated on February 10, 2016
When a dog shakes his head repeatedly, it usually means that something is bothering his ears.
When a dog shakes his head repeatedly, it usually means that something is bothering his ears. | Source

My Dog Keeps Shaking Its Head!

If your canine displays "dog shaking head syndrome," it typically means one thing: There is something bothering his ears, causing him discomfort and possibly pain. If you know what to look for, you can diagnose the problem rather quickly and even treat it yourself.

We've outlined the most common reasons why a dog would shake its head vigorously and repeatedly. Some causes are serious, others less so. Find out what you can do to help ease his discomfort and keep it from recurring!

Can Head-Shaking Hurt My Dog?

If your dog continues to shake his head, he might be able to burst a blood vessel in his ear. This allows blood to accumulate and a hematoma may develop. Below is a photo of my dog Lucy and her aural hematoma. It's on the top part of the rear. Oddly enough, she did not have an ear infection, and I didn't ever notice her shaking her head. However, the vet explained that it could be from shaking her head too much.

It's hard to tell in the pic, but it's a firm-yet-spongy "mass" (which is the blood) that can cover a dog's entire ear. We had it drained, but it came back within a few hours. The vet said that the blood will eventually calcify and be partially absorbed back into her body. Her ear will be semi-deformed as a result.

An aural hematoma on my dog Lucy.
An aural hematoma on my dog Lucy. | Source

What Makes a Dog Shake His Head Repeatedly?

Seizure

This is obviously the most serious condition. If the shaking is persistent, call your vet immediately. Be prepared to take him straight in for a visit.

Seizures can cause serious damage to a dog's brain and can even be fatal. It's essential that you get the dog in for treatment as soon as you suspect this is happening. Luckily, seizures are quite rare, and dog shaking head syndrome is usually caused by much less serious conditions.

Ear mites are very irritating and can make a dog shake his head back and forth.
Ear mites are very irritating and can make a dog shake his head back and forth.

Ear Mites

You can usually tell when a dog has ear mites. If he shakes his head and also scratches at his ears (even to the point of causing bleeding), he probably has mites. As the photo shows, mite discharge is reddish-brown or deep brown. It is much darker than typical earwax. If you look hard enough, you might even be able to detect white spots moving. These are the actual mites. They are particularly dangerous to dogs, as they can cause severe damage to the ear canal if left untreated.

If this is your first time dealing with this, you might want to see your vet for guidance. Typically though, mites can be treated at home with an over-the-counter remedy.

Zymox Otic Pet Ear Treatment without Hydrocortisone, 1-1/4-Ounce
Zymox Otic Pet Ear Treatment without Hydrocortisone, 1-1/4-Ounce

With over 170 reviews averaging OVER 4/5, this product gets the job done. This is the best treatment I've used for mites. It seemed to relieve my two dogs instantly.

 

Dirty Ears

If your dog only shakes his head every now and again, he may simply have dirty ears. If the debris you see inside the ears is mostly light-to-medium tan in color, he may have a buildup of ear wax mixed with dirt. A simple ear wash is what's needed.

A natural way to clean the dog's ears is to flush them with any type of vegetable oil. This can be quite messy and oily! I prefer to use a commercial ear cleaner, as it's easier and less likely to interact with any sort of other treatment I may be using (like for mites).

Pet King Brand Zymox Otic Enzymatic Solution for Pet Ears, 1.25 Ounces
Pet King Brand Zymox Otic Enzymatic Solution for Pet Ears, 1.25 Ounces

If my dog shakes her head only periodically, I know that wax build-up is to blame. I rely on this product because it cleans without harsh chemicals and it's made so as not to interfere with any other products I may be applying.

I use this ear wash about 12 hours before treating for ear mites. I make sure the ear canal is thoroughly dry before applying any medication. It can be used once a week to keep their ears clean.

 

How to Clean a Dog's Ears

  1. Hold the dog's ear with one hand and the cleaner with the other. Lift up the ear and lightly squeeze the cleaner into canal. Take care to get the ear wash as far into the canal as possible as debris can live past where the eye can see.
  2. Let the dog's ear lay flat (or fold it over) and gently message in the solution for 30-60 seconds. You should hear a squishy sound. The dog's ear should serve as a buffer between your fingers and the ear. Allow your pet to shake out any excess when you are done.
  3. Use a cotton ball to remove any excess solution. If the dog has a lot of ear wax, use a fresh cotton ball with every swipe to ensure that you are not pushing any debris further into the ear.

How Long Has the Dog Been Shaking Its Head? - Reader poll

How long has the dog been experiencing this problem?

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Has Your Dog Ever Shaken His Head Repeatedly? What Was the Cause?

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    • profile image

      Monique 5 weeks ago

      My little dog shakes her head when she gets up in the morning. She is 8 years old and it is now happening every morning.

    • profile image

      skyrim_dlc 2 months ago

      hi my dog won't stop shaking her head somedays its good somedays its horrible i think its been happening for a month or 2 and its now starting to bleed i feel horrible doing nothing I've tried to look in her ears without causing pain for her but she keeps shaking it even with a little tap my mum put cream on it but it doesn't seem to help. i have know idea whats going on and how to stop it? , i don't know what causes it, does it have something to do with their age? or something else??

    • profile image

      MFSmart 2 months ago

      After each visit to the groomers our dog gets hair in his ears. He shakes his head to get the hair out. If it's not out after a few days I clean them out. Works every time and I see the hair after I wipe his ears. If you've recently gone to the groomers then you might want to try just cleaning their ears.

    • profile image

      Kay G 7 months ago

      Our 5 month old terrier lab mix started shaking his head/ ears after getting a bath about 3 weeks ago. We called the vet & told him. We thought our dog might had gotten some water in his ear from bath time. The vet said he should be fine but if dog wasn't scratching or bad odor he should be fine. After 3 weeks of him shaking his head about 15-20 times at least a day, we took dog into vet. Vet said his ears were fine & there was nothing to worry about. Our 5 month old fog is trying to let us know he is uncomfortable. I told the vet that ... Vet said it could be allergies possibly but gave no medicine or treatment suggestions. I'm concerned. Any ideas about this? Vet looked at his ears, & listened to his heart & said not to worry . My dog is still shaking his head :(

    • profile image

      somebuddy2 7 months ago

      I have a five year old Pomeranian/Shitzu mix that started shaking her head and favoring her right ear last night. The ear appears clean and not inflamed. I put some ear powder to absorb any excess liquid in there. She lets me rub it a little. When it is bothering her, she holds her head to the right side and the ear is flopped down a bit. I am worried that a foxtail or something got in there. How can I tell? I'd rather not take her to the vet, if I can take care of it at home. Help, please?

    • profile image

      David 7 months ago

      Foxtails were in my dogs ear, we went to the vet and got them out, but my dog is still shaking his head, I even went back to the vet twice and she says his ears are fine... There's something still wrong, maybe a different vet.

    • MyMastiffPuppies profile image

      MyMastiffPuppies 15 months ago

      Excellent information, we had a resue dog that had ear mites and after a couple of other over the counter washes that claimed to treat ear mites, this one actually worked. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      Adam 16 months ago

      I use Zymox with 5 Essential oil drops of each of Tea Tree oil, Lavender, and Geranium in the whole bottle. I have rinsed my Tilly's ears with Zymox on a monthly basis and she does not object to it and she is not scratching her ears any longer. A nice chicken treat after each treatment seems to leave a good positive memory of the event.

      I started this when I noticed she was focused scratching her ears. Her vet said her ears were ok but I was not happy. The wash with Zymox mix and the 1 min massage caused blackish stuff that appears to black ear wax to get loose, some came off when she shook her head after each treatment and some I used a soft ear bud cleaners to remove while I dried her ears after the shaking.

      Her left ear was very quick to completely clean out and no more black was coming out after each treatment but her right ear took 4 cleaning sessions (1 week apart). Fortunately she never had any signs of rash in her ear canals. She still shakes head many times during the day such as when she wakes off or when she is bored with some activity and wants to move on...

      Happy Tilly happy life...

    • LNAngel profile image
      Author

      Lauren 2 years ago from Florida

      @randall729: No, a flea/tick collar won't kill ear mites, unfortunately.

    • profile image

      randall729 2 years ago

      I have a dog shaking it's head constantly. I put on a flea and tick collar. Will this collar kill ear mites? If not, will take dog to vet, I guess. Any comments will help.

    • mariacarbonara profile image

      mariacarbonara 3 years ago

      Thinking about getting a dog in the near future so its great to find out about these things. Great lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      My dog has been doing this head shaking a lot recently, probably for about a month now and we've tried a lot of home remedies to try to help him, but everything seems to be just making it worst. He used to shake his head every once in a while but now it's becoming constant. I don't exactly have the money to take him to the vet so we haven't took him yet. We tried Vinegar, cleaning it with water, and drying it out constantly. We don't know what he has. He's ears are clean and they don't stink. Although they are warm to the touch and it often hurts him when we touch his ears (he yelps). They've became very sensitive. He won't stop scratching and yelping. Poor pup!! I don't know what to do for him. :(

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have Two Boxers and our white one Zydeco started to get head tremors about 5 months ago. We had a full blood panel done and everything was OK. Dr put her on seizure meds and after about 3 weeks she was still having them. I took her off medicine and started her on Vitamin B-complex. From all the research I have done and reading through several Vet medical journals this seems to be the only thing that actually works.

      So If you dog is having Head tremors have a blood panel done âfor the just in caseâ. If nothing comes up try Vitamin B-complex. Donât give them Seizure medicine as it does damage the pups liver.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @Englishmastiffe: This is sooooo true.. my dog is a over sized cane corso.. and the droll is constant...he shakes his head constantly. And we didn't know why.....

    • Englishmastiffe profile image

      Englishmastiffe 4 years ago

      This is a very big pain when the dog shaking their head is the size of a Mastiff! It is a huge dog!!

    • HardyGirl profile image

      HardyGirl 4 years ago

      Often times, head shaking is due to bugs and/or debris in the ear (other than mites). My cockers seem to pick up everything in the yard and shake their heads to clear their ears. Seems to work, 'cause I never find anything afterward! Good coverage of this topic.

    • puppyprints profile image

      puppyprints 4 years ago

      My Border Collie started having seizures when he was around 8 years old. It is scary

    • LNAngel profile image
      Author

      Lauren 4 years ago from Florida

      @anonymous: Interesting quirk!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      All the above don't relate to my 13 yrs old Harrier mix. My dog has been shaking his head violently, as a habit, for more than 10 years, when he is excited. Be it before going for a walk. Getting up from sleep, etc. Vets been checking his ears all the time.

    • LNAngel profile image
      Author

      Lauren 4 years ago from Florida

      @anonymous: The version with the hydrocortisone will help to reduce itching and redness, as well as swelling. Some dogs apparently can have a sensitivity to this, which is why I don't *officially* recommend it, however, I know plenty of dogs that have used it with absolutely no issue. I have used it in the past, as well. You'd probably be fine, either way, especially if your dog isn't the sensitive type to being with. Both products are available through the link above, whichever way you decide. Good luck to you and your pup!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      hello. What is the difference between Zymox Otic Pet Ear Treatment without Hydrocortisone and Zymox Otic Pet Ear Treatment with Hydrocortisone? thank you so much for your help!!

    • LNAngel profile image
      Author

      Lauren 4 years ago from Florida

      @anonymous: How is your dog doing now? Have you tried rinsing the ears?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Groomers normally pull the hair out of poodles ears. It's pretty normal for them to shake their head a little afterwards. If she's shaking violently and won't stop , she needs to see a vet.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have a Maltese, he is shaking is head , and scratching is ears, brought him to the Vet. The vet didn't see a problem...What can i do for him? He can't walk round without shaking his head. I know he's in pain

    • profile image

      D_L_Harbin 4 years ago

      Ear mites seem to be a constant occurrence at my house. Thank for letting me know how to properly clean their ears.

    • LNAngel profile image
      Author

      Lauren 4 years ago from Florida

      @anonymous: How old is your dog? Has she ever done this before? My first thought is that maybe the groomer accidentally lodged some ear wax deep in her ear during the groom, and she's trying to shake it out. If I were you, I'd try squirting some of the rinse above into her ear, massage it a bit, then let her shake, shake, shake in hopes of getting it out. If that doesn't work, take her to the vet so they can use a scope to see if anything is down there.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      My toy poodle started violent head shaking immediately after taking her to a groomer . Have tried eveything to help her and have given up . Anubody know anything about this ?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great and Useful Information. Thanks !

    • mbuntyn profile image

      mbuntyn 4 years ago

      Thanks for the insight. Now I know what to look for, if and/or when this happens to my dog.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Those ear mites sure do bother dogs. Ear medicine does take care of that, and some TLC.

    • gamecheathub profile image

      gamecheathub 5 years ago

      Holy cow! This is a fantastic lens. I've seen dogs that shake like that over the years and reading your lens has now educated me for future reference. Next time I see a dog doing this, I can tell the owner what's up and hopefully get that dog back to comfort. I love it when I read a lens and learn some new facts. Thanks!

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