Causes and Solutions for Dog Head-Shaking - PetHelpful - By fellow animal lovers and experts
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Causes and Solutions for Dog Head-Shaking

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Lauren's dog had ear mites. Here's how she managed her dog's ear conditions at home.

Why is your dog shaking its head?

Why is your dog shaking its head?

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?

Ear Infections

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."

Ear Mites

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.

Dirty Ears

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).

Supplies

  • Ear-cleaning product
  • Cotton balls
  • Treats
  • Gloves (recommended)

Directions

  1. Wear gloves if you have them.
  2. Take 2–3 cotton balls and saturate them with ear cleaner.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. Remove the cotton balls and allow your pet to shake out any excess solution when you are done.
  6. 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.
  7. Repeat on the other ear.

The Ear Cleaner I Use That Soothes Irritation

You can reduce your dog's head shaking behavior by maintaining clean ears.

You can reduce your dog's head shaking behavior by maintaining clean ears.

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.

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

kenzie on October 18, 2018:

this has happened before, my dog shakes his head and his left ear goes bellow the right one as if the right one is perked up. his ears are hot but he wont let me look in the one that seems to cause him pain. he doesn't fall asleep and I don't know if its infected or not because this happens alot

Unknown on August 14, 2018:

My dog started shaking his ears while he was trying to lay down to fall asleep again tonight but is shaking his head for a small amount of time very softly and waiting about 5 seconds as if to see if he got whatever it is out and shakes again. I tryed looking in his ear ( it’s his left one ) and there’s nothing that I can see and he doesn’t whimper or anything when I touch it. He did fall back asleep so I don’t wanna wake him up right now Incase he starts again but in one of his ears he also has like a wart or something but he doesn’t have any on his body and he’s had that for awhile, probably I few years after I was born (am 12) and it never bothered him before and I don’t think it is now but please help (also try not to suggest a vet solution where he has to go under amnesia because he is so old like 16 in human years to the point where I don’t think he would wake up from it)

Roy Banta on July 17, 2018:

This. had happened before. It might be 3 months in between but it actually looks like he's going crazy it it looks like a seizure but the last 4 hours

bridget corley on June 28, 2018:

Today, my pom stated shaking his head as the right side of his face was drawed up anf he was wheezing at the same time

arline zoitke on June 17, 2018:

My dog's one ear seems to bother him and he keeps shaking it. His ears are spotless, no ear mites, no redness, not wet, not bleeding. This just started today. How can I treat it before I have to take him to a vet? Should it stop?

jeaniegi on May 13, 2018:

my dog is shaking her head bad and whining has alot of blackish brown stuff in it I have no money for her or credit card.what can i put in her ear to help her

ashley gross on April 15, 2018:

My dog constantly shakes her head and I've already gave her ear mite medicine and cleaning her ear I don't know what to do

jen on January 12, 2018:

my dog shakes his head all the time,vet said he is fine.it drives

me crazy

Rosalie on December 30, 2017:

Took her to vet she was taken perdnissolone 5mg pill and putting tresaderm 15ml drops in ear and they have her ear treatment there for ear infection two times for to weeks now she is still shaking head ?

Connie on December 02, 2017:

Our dog went to the Pet Smart groomers, I noticed it when she came home yesterday just thought it was the bow and took. It out but still shaking her head frequently.

Tunde on November 06, 2017:

I used a liquid treatment in both my dogs ears for mites infestation and they both have been shaking their heads rigorously no-stop for several hours and screeching in pain or irritation. what can i do to stop this. 1 is a Caucasian and the other a boerboel

Storms mom on November 05, 2017:

Storm is a 9 month old pit lab mix and she mainly shakes her head in the morning (not every morning) & occasionally in the evening (not every evening), but she doesn't scratch them. Her ears are clean and clear. She likes when I massage her ears. She doesn't whine or wince when they are touched. We don't have a vet as of yet. Thanks for advice.

tommie on October 29, 2017:

the other occasion she shake her head repeatedly is when she had an infection, we toke her to the vet and he gave shot, medication, and drinking substance. This is the third visit.

George on October 05, 2017:

Just started. He is a 105 lb American Standard Bull Dog

Adrian on October 02, 2017:

My pit bull just started shaking his head only when I'm going to feed him

Season heise on June 08, 2017:

Our Maremma shakes his head when he is moving. Not when lying down for sleep. We had his ears checked by the local vet. No infection and they cleaned them. However, he shakes his head continuously and it is the right side. He seems to be ok otherwise. I don't know what to do.

Anon on April 05, 2017:

@somebuddy2 my dog just started doing the exact same thing, did you ever figure out what happened to your dog?

Monique on February 16, 2017:

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.

skyrim_dlc on January 02, 2017:

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??

MFSmart on December 28, 2016:

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.

Kay G on August 23, 2016:

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 :(

somebuddy2 on August 16, 2016:

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?

David on August 15, 2016:

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 on December 10, 2015:

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!

Adam on November 13, 2015:

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...

Lauren (author) from Florida on July 09, 2014:

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

randall729 on July 01, 2014:

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 on July 19, 2013:

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

anonymous on May 31, 2013:

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. :(

anonymous on January 30, 2013:

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.

anonymous on January 11, 2013:

@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 on December 31, 2012:

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

HardyGirl on November 28, 2012:

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 on November 25, 2012:

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

Lauren (author) from Florida on November 04, 2012:

@anonymous: Interesting quirk!

anonymous on November 04, 2012:

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.

Lauren (author) from Florida on November 01, 2012:

@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!

anonymous on November 01, 2012:

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!!

Lauren (author) from Florida on October 31, 2012:

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

anonymous on October 31, 2012:

@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.

anonymous on October 28, 2012:

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

D_L_Harbin on October 04, 2012:

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

Lauren (author) from Florida on September 10, 2012:

@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.

anonymous on September 10, 2012:

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 ?

anonymous on August 31, 2012:

Great and Useful Information. Thanks !

mbuntyn on August 27, 2012:

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

anonymous on February 19, 2012:

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

gamecheathub on November 12, 2011:

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!