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Four Reasons Dogs Keep Shaking Their Heads

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Persistent head shaking could point to a medical issue.
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Vet examines happy dog’s ear

Head shaking is normal dog behavior. Without fingers and thumbs, dogs instinctively shake their heads to relieve discomfort, itchiness or irritation; it’s an effective way to clear the ear canal of water, dirt or insects. 

But while the occasional head shake isn’t cause for concern, regular and persistent head shaking is abnormal and could signal a possible medical issue. It’s important to understand why dogs shake their heads and to look for the signs that indicate a medical problem. If your dog’s head shaking is frequent and lasts for more than a day, or if your dog has red, swollen and smelly ears, consult your veterinarian right away.

Learn more about four common medical reasons your dog might be shaking their head frequently.

1. Ear Infections in Dogs

Canine otitis externa, also known as an ear infection, occurs when a dog’s outer ear canal is inflamed. Common causes include allergies, ear mites, trapped water and floppy ears. Ear infections are the second most common reason for vet visits and come with a range of symptoms:

  • Red and swollen ears
  • Ear scratching
  • Head shaking
  • Discharge
  • Odor in the ear

In most cases, ear inflammation requires medical treatment and will not go away on its own. Dogs that have suffered from otitis externa once may be at risk of experiencing it again. If left untreated, ear inflammation can worsen and lead to permanent changes to the structures of the ear, possibly affecting hearing as well. Ask your veterinarian about treatments for otitis externa.

2. Ear Damage or Trauma

Dogs can sometimes injure themselves while going for a run, playing at the dog park or exploring a wooded trail. If you notice a change in your dog’s behavior (suddenly lethargic, subdued or showing signs of ear pain and sensitivity), the cause could be an ear injury. Consult your veterinarian right away.

3. Foreign Objects

Head shaking can be a sign that something is lodged in your dog’s ear. Grass seeds and grass awns, also known as foxtails, are common objects that may get stuck in your dog’s ear during a walk, becoming embedded and causing irritation. 

If you notice ear inflammation or your pet scratching their ears vigorously, there may be something in their ear(s) that shouldn’t be there. Reach out to your vet to determine a treatment plan. 

4. Ear Hematomas 

An ear hematoma, or blood blister, occurs when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the space between the skin and cartilage of a dog’s ear flap, resulting in discolored skin, swelling, bleeding and pain. Hematomas are usually caused by overly aggressive scratching or head shaking resulting from an underlying medical condition, such as an ear infection or skin condition. 

Treatments range from draining the hematoma with a needle to surgical correction. It’s important to treat the blood blister immediately to avoid infection and further damage, and to determine what underlying condition caused the scratching and head shaking in the first place. In many cases, a bacterial infection or itchy skin condition is also present. While ear hematomas aren’t easily preventable, treating the underlying issues that cause head shaking will help reduce the risk of this complication. 

Chronic head shaking is just one indicator of a potentially serious health issue. If you notice your dog shaking their head frequently, or exhibiting additional symptoms like inflamed ears, scratching, ear sensitivity or an unpleasant odor coming from the ears, consult your vet right away.
 

Claro® (florfenicol, terbinafine, mometasone furoate) Otic Solution
Claro® (florfenicol, terbinafine, mometasone furoate) Otic Solution

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