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canine health problems

Why is my dog constantly shaking their head?

Learn the hows and whys of head shaking in dogs, as well as how to treat the underlying causes.

Updated September 29, 2021

Created By

Lauren Cocking,
A small dog shaking head

The essentials

  • Dogs shake their head for many different reasons Most of these, like trapped debris, allergies, and ear infections are generally easy to treat and nothing to worry about.
  • Ear cleaners can help treat many root causes of head shaking Simple at-home ear cleaners are great for helping with allergies, ear wax buildup, and more.
  • In rare cases, head tremors can be confused for head shaking This is extremely uncommon and not something you need to worry about until other causes have been ruled out.

If you’ve noticed your pup shaking their head, you might be wondering why your dog keeps doing it. Are they uncomfortable or in pain? Or is it just one of those dog things? While there are many common reasons why your dog keeps shaking their head, just keep in mind that it’s most often nothing to worry about, especially if they do it infrequently.

Why do dogs shake their heads?

Debris and water

Bits of grass seeds, fluff, dirt, or even just plain ol’ water in your dog’s ear can cause them to shake their head furiously in an attempt to dislodge whatever is stuck. (We’ve all been on the receiving end of an unpleasant wet dog shake!) This is a common cause of ‘normal’ head shaking that only becomes persistent if the foreign body is too far down the ear canal to dislodge, so don’t worry if this occasionally occurs.

👉 Excessive ear wax build-up could also be causing your dog to shake their head repeatedly.

Bacterial or yeast infections

Ear infections are another very common cause of head shaking in our furry friends, mostly because they cause itchiness, discharge, and inflammation. Does your dog’s ear look particularly red and gross? They might have an infection, but don’t panic because ear infections are very easy to treat.

🚨 Ear mites very rarely cause head shaking in adult dogs.

Allergies

Both seasonal and food allergies can cause head shaking in dogs as they lead to itchy skin, hair loss, and sometimes even ear infections. If your dog has recurring ear infections, then an allergy might be the root cause, although thyroid issues can also cause recurrent ear infections in dogs.

👉 Hypoallergenic foods are great ways to confirm whether your pooch has a food allergy and a convenient way of reducing or eliminating their allergy symptoms altogether. 

Neurological disorders

In very rare cases, neurological disorders can cause head shaking or head tremors which look very similar to head shaking. This is not a common cause of head shaking in dogs, though.  

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Should I be worried about my dog shaking their head?

If your dog shakes their head infrequently and at times when it makes sense for them to do so — like, if you just bathed them or applied ear drops — then it’s probably not an issue. However, if your pup is persistently and vigorously shaking their head, it can be a cause for concern. First of all, because the actual shaking could cause damage to their delicate ear flaps. Second of all, it could indicate one of the more serious underlying issues mentioned above.

If you think there might be a more serious underlying cause for your dog’s continued head shakes, take them to the vet, especially if their ears also look red and inflamed. There, they’ll likely examine the ear and run tests for things like allergies, infections, abnormalities, and even hypothyroidism.

🚨 Excessive shaking can sometimes cause aural hematomas (blood blisters from ruptured blood vessels) which may need surgery to correct and repair.

Treatment and prevention

Depending on the reason for your dog’s head shaking, there are several treatment and prevention options. However, more severe neurological reasons may require more complex solutions.

Ear cleaners

Ear cleaners are a good catch-all treatment for many common ear problems in dogs, such as allergies, trapped debris, ticks, wax build-up, and even some yeast infections (when using medicated drops). Ear cleaners are also great at reducing how often these issues reoccur, too, which means head shaking should be a thing of the past for your pup.

Allergy medications

Allergies are a very common cause of ear irritation and head shaking in our four-legged friends, but luckily there are plenty of available over-the-counter allergy medications like Zyrtec and Benadryl that can help.

👉 Limiting your dogs exposure to their trigger allergens is also an effective and all-natural way of helping them with allergy-related head shaking too. 

Antibiotics

Head shaking can be caused by bacterial infections, especially when they’re persistent or prolonged. In these cases, antibiotics and medicated ear drops in combination are often prescribed.

Surgery

Surgery can be a solution to excessive head shaking in extreme cases, such as if your pooch has a blood blister (aural hematoma) on their ear flap, ear polyps, or a more complex neurological disorder.

👉 Regular ear cleanings can also help prevent many of the common causes behind your dog’s head shaking, including allergies, mites, and ear infections.