Causes and Solutions for Dog Head-Shaking
My Dog Keeps Shaking Its Head!
If your dog is continuously shaking its head, this typically means that there is something bothering its ears that is causing discomfort and possibly causing pain. If you know what to look for, you can diagnose and treat the problem rather quickly.
We've outlined the most common reasons why a dog would shake its head vigorously and repeatedly. Some causes are serious, and others less so. Find out what you can do to help ease his or her discomfort and keep the problem from recurring.
Can Head-Shaking Hurt My Dog?
If your dog continues to shake their head, he or she may eventually rupture blood vessels in the ear. This allows blood to accumulate in the pinna (ear) and may cause an aural hematoma to develop.
What Is an Aural Hematoma?
Below is a photo of my dog Lucy (second photo) and her aural hematoma on the top part of the ear. Oddly enough, she did not have an ear infection—as one would suspect—and I didn't even notice her shaking her head. However, the vet explained that an aural hematoma often forms when a dog shakes their head too much.
It's hard to tell from the pictures, but a hematoma is much like a firm, spongy "mass" (a collection of blood) that covers a dog's entire ear. After it was diagnosed, we had the hematoma drained, but it came back within a few hours. The vet said that the blood would eventually calcify and be partially absorbed back into her body. They also explained that her ear will be slightly deformed as a result.
What Makes a Dog Shake Its Head Repeatedly?
Dogs commonly shake their head when they have an ear infection or an overgrowth of yeast in the ear. This is especially common in dogs with long, floppy ears. Keeping humidity and moisture down around the ear is important for preventing infection. You may also want to adopt an ear-cleaning routine to keep the ear canal and ear flaps healthy. Take your dog to the vet for an exam if you suspect an ear infection or you smell "yeasty ears."
You can usually tell when a dog has ear mites. If he or she shakes their head and also scratches at their ears (even to the point of bleeding), they probably have mites. As the photo (second 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 specs moving (these are the actual mites). Ear mites 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 an ear mite infestation, you might want to see your vet for guidance. Typically though, mites can be treated at home with an over-the-counter remedy.
If your dog only shakes their head every now and again, he or she may simply have dirty ears. If the debris you see inside the ears is mostly light to medium-tan in color, he or she may have a buildup of earwax and dirt. A simple ear wash may be what's needed.
I prefer to use a commercial ear cleaner, as it's easy and unlikely to interact with any sort of other treatment I may be using on my dog (e.g. ear mite treatment).
Could It Be a Seizure?
A seizure is obviously a serious condition. If the head shaking is persistent and is accompanied by other indications of a seizure, call your vet immediately. Be prepared to take your dog 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 your dog in for treatment as soon as you suspect this is happening. Luckily, seizures are quite rare, and head tremors are usually caused by much less serious conditions.
How to Clean Dog Ears Correctly
How to Clean Dog Ears
Here is how to clean a dog's ear. If your dog is uncomfortable, painful, or you suspect something else is going on, take your dog to the vet. You should only be cleaning your dog's ears if you know for certain that the eardrum is intact (it is not ruptured).
- Ear-cleaning product
- Cotton balls
- Gloves (recommended)
- Wear gloves if you have them.
- Take 2–3 cotton balls and saturate them with ear cleaner.
- Hold the dog's ear with one hand. Lift up the ear and place the soaked cotton balls into the ear canal entry (do not stuff the cotton balls into the canal).
- Let the dog's ear lay flat (or fold it over) and gently massage the solution-soaked cotton balls 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.
- Remove the cotton balls and allow your pet to shake out any excess solution when you are done.
- Use a clean 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.
- Repeat on the other ear.
The Ear Cleaner I Use That Soothes Irritation
This is the product I've used for the past 5+ years to help soothe my dogs' ears. It's a liquid but it's slightly slippery and it contains soothing hydrocortisone. My dogs' ears were very inflamed before I started using it, but after using this product, the inside of the ears went from angry-red to pink, and they improved with daily use.
How Long Has Your Dog Been Shaking Its Head?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.