why does a dog shake its head
Pets shake their heads for several reasons. The most common reason for head shaking in dogs is the one we all know - the head and coat shake after a swim at the beach or a soap-up at bath time. Regular or continuous head shaking in cats or dogs without reason is not normal and could be an ear of an issue! Why might a cat or dog shake their head? There are quite a few reasons, and most of them relate in some way to the ears. Should you be concerned? The answer is yes. If left untreated permanent ear damage can occur including a ruptured eardrum or even hearing loss. Problems such as Aural Haematomas can develop as a result of persistent or aggressive head shaking (
). Any chronic inflammatory process (such as a bad infection) not treated is painful. If you have ever had a bad ear ache, you will no doubt remember the associated pain you felt before treatment. In the case of dogs, after the sense of smell, a dog's ability to hear is the next most important of its special senses. So investigating why a pet is shaking their head and treating any problems is vital to your pet's future quality of life.
How do you tell what the problem is? As a pet owner it is extremely difficult to tell what the problem is. A dog or cat's ear canal is L shaped and problems are often hidden deep in the canal out of sight. The narrow ear tube/ canal is lined with an epithelium and ear problems can cause the epithelium to swell and subsequently reduce the size of the ear canal. This in turn (in combination with the shape of the ear canal) makes it very difficult for any discharge to make its way to the external ear. Head shaking on its own is enough to warrant further investigation, ie. a veterinary health check-up. However, the following signs could also indicate problems:- Tenderness, irritability when you touch the ear Please do not use cotton buds or try to poke anything in your pet's ears unless you have been instructed to do so. What to do next? The first step is to consult your veterinarian. Your vet will examine the ear with an instrument called an otoscope. If they detect an infection they will take a swab from the ear to conduct cytology (look at a sample of the discharge under the microscope).
This is important to assess what organisms are present in the ear canal and in what numbers to assist with accurate treatment choice. Cytology will usually be conducted at each recheck as well to evaluate whether the infection is clearing with the chosen treatment or whether further investigation is required. (eg. culture and sensitivity testing). It is very important to follow their directions for treatment and revisit for a check-up when advised. Whilst head shaking related problems is more common in dogs, cats can have very similar problems and veterinary assessment is essential in finding out the cause in order to determine the most appropriate treatment. When it comes to dogs, any minor itch, tickle, irritation, or sting is enough to prompt them to shake a little in order to bring relief. When you see your dog shaking, therefore, it is no big deal. If the shaking persists, however, and it consistently involves one part of your dog's body, it is cause for concern.
When it is his head that he keeps shaking, there are a number of distinct possibilities that could be the reason, and some of them may require swift action. Begin your examination by following the directions outlined in My Dog's Head Is Tilted, paying particular attention to your dog's ears. In addition, check your dog's skin carefully for any signs of dryness, irritation, infection, wounds, or parasites. If you notice any one of these, the sooner you treat your dog with the appropriate medication, the better chance he has for a rapid recovery. Does your dog have any evidence of an ear infection? Even a mild yeast infection is enough to induce a dog to shake his head frequently. Follow the directions for cleaning your dog's ears in How to Clean and Treat Your Dog's Dirty and/or Infected Ears [not available online]. Does your dog have any swelling of his ears? Sometimes a dog with an infection or other irritation of his ears shakes his head so much that he bangs it against something, which can cause a blood blister on the ear.
This is called an aural hematoma, and it will certainly cause your dog to shake his head even more. This problem usually needs simple surgical intervention. Does your dog have evidence of an injury or infection? The discomfort from a wound or a local infection of any part of your dog's head could cause him to shake his head. Clean and treat the wound or infection, and the shaking may stop. Has your dog recently suffered a head trauma? Trauma to the head can result in a number of problems that might cause a dog to shake his head. If the results of the trauma are not serious, the head shaking should diminish and eventually cease with time. Does your dog's balance seem unstable? Dogs that have balance issues from any source - such as head trauma, stroke, inner ear infection, or vestibular syndrome - will frequently shake their heads to attempt to relieve the symptoms themselves. For more advice on how to proceed, follow the directions in My Dog Keeps Losing His Balance.
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