Head shaking is normal behavior among canines. You will find them vigorously shaking their heads after a swim or bath. They might be trying to get the water out of their ears.
But, if the dog persists with the behavior for several hours or even days after, it can be a cause of worry. It could signify that the dog is uncomfortable or in distress.
You can start by checking the ears for any symptoms. For example, there could be visible inflammation or ear discharge in case of infections. Or you may see a foreign irritant stuck in its ears. In addition, parasites can invade the dog’s ears, or it could be a life-threatening condition like a tumor.
If the dog exhibits strange behavior, it is best to get it checked by the vet. In this case, any health concern of the ears can be caught early on, and the dog can receive appropriate treatment.
The article will explore the answers to the question, why does my dog keep shaking his head, treatment available, and how to best care for your dog’s ears.
- Why Does My Dog Shake its Head?
- Why Does My Dog Keeps Shaking His Head?
- What Should I Do About My Dog’s Head Shaking?
- How Should I Clean My Dog’s Ears?
Why Does My Dog Shake its Head?
When the dog has something stuck in its ears, shaking its head is the best way to eliminate the irritant. The dog will feel irritated when they have something in the ear that should not be there in the first place. The vigorous head movement is strong enough to send any irritants flying out.
This behavior is expected if the irritant is water, grass, flower petals, or an insect. But, if the dog continues with the head shaking, the cause must be investigated.
Why Does My Dog Keeps Shaking His Head?
Let us look at different reasons why your dog keeps shaking its head, symptoms, and treatments available.
1. Irritant Trapped in Ears
The common reason a dog will shake its head is that it has something in its ears. If your dog likes to roll around the backyard, chances are tiny grass seeds, insects, or parts of wildflowers can find their way into the dog’s ears. This is more common during the summer season. The dog is bound to feel irritated and uncomfortable.
Water is another common irritant. If the dog goes for a swim or you dump a bucket of water while bathing it, water will find its way inside the dog’s ears.
Things like grass seeds can be a pain for the dog. They are typically small in size, like a grain of rice. If a dog keeps shaking its head after you have taken a walk on a long grass area, check its ears. If visible, carefully remove the grass seed.
You may have to muzzle the dog or use the help of another person to keep the dog still while you safely tend to its ears.
You may see redness and swelling if the seed has penetrated the dog’s skin. Please call the vet immediately in this scenario.
You can place cotton balls in their ears for dogs that go swimming to prevent too much water from getting inside. You can also look for swimming-specific ear bands available. When bathing the dog, do not dump water on its head. Instead, you can bathe it as usual below the neck and for the head, use a damp towel to clean.
2. Itchy Ear Due to Allergies
One of the common signs of dog allergies is itchy ears. The dog will resort to head shaking to get rid of the uncomfortable sensation. You may find it excessively pawing or scratching the ear area. Apart from the ear, you may also find redness and hair loss on other body parts.
Allergies in the canine world are common and can happen due to various reasons. For example, dust, mold spores, and pollen are typical environmental allergens. The summer months can be difficult if these allergens trigger your dog’s allergy.
Then you have food allergens. Dairy, chicken, and gluten are some of the typical food allergens that affect dogs. Some dogs may react immediately, while others may develop an allergy to the food item over time.
Treatment depends on the allergen type affecting your dog. The vet may perform skin and blood tests to determine the same.
As per the results, the vet may prescribe medications like steroids or antihistamines. In addition, topicals and hypoallergenic shampoo can effectively soothe itchy areas.
Food allergies can be trickier to treat. The way to go is to identify and remove the allergen from the dog’s diet. This requires the dog to be on an exclusive diet for a period of 8 to 12 weeks. The vet will provide you with a customized diet plan if a food allergy is suspected.
3. Bacterial or Yeast Infection of Ears
The shape of a dog’s ear canal makes them prone to ear infections. According to AKC, 20% of canines suffer from some type of ear disease. In addition, dogs with floppy ears like Beagle, Basset Hounds, Poodle, and Dachshund have an increased risk of ear infections.
Head shaking is one of the first signs you will notice in case of ear infections. Other signs include ear scratching, discharge, odor, redness, swelling, and crusting in the ears.
Moisture, allergies, wax build-up, autoimmune disorders, and injury are some causes that can lead to ear infections.
The signs may not be visible if the infection is deep within the dog’s ears. But, if the dog keeps shaking its head or whines in pain, it is best to get it checked.
The vet will thoroughly clean the dog’s ears. This helps flush out wax plugs, irritants, parasites, or foreign objects. The dog may require sedation for the cleaning process.
In most dogs, there is typically more than one type of organism causing the infection. So, broad-spectrum medication will be used. In addition, the vet may prescribe cleansers and topicals to be used at home. The infection should resolve within a week or two.
If the dog suffers from chronic ear infections, the underlying health condition should be investigated and treated. For example, if the reason is hypothyroidism, the condition can be managed but not curable. Thyroid hormone replacement therapy can help keep signs like ear infections away.
4. Growth Inside Ear Canal
Dogs can develop abnormal growths in their ear canals. These growths can be benign or cancerous. Some common tumors that affect dogs are polyps, ceruminous and sebaceous gland adenomas, papillomas, and adenocarcinomas. External ear tumors are more often found in dogs than middle or inner ear tumors.
The clinical signs may differ depending on the type of growth. For example, in the case of benign tumors, they might grow to a particular size and may appear pink or white in color. In the case of cancerous tumors, they might spread to other parts of the ears and block the ear canal.
Chronic ear infections, bleeding, discharge, itchiness, pain, scratching, and head shaking are the symptoms you might see.
The vet will first work on identifying the mass inside the ear canal. Next, if possible, a sample will be taken for biopsy. If the mass is cancerous, the vet will do further tests like CT scans, x-rays, blood work, and advanced imaging to know how invasive the cancer is.
In the case of benign ear canal tumors, surgery is a curative option with complete mass removal. In the case of cancerous tumors, complete removal may or may not be possible. The vet may recommend radiation or chemotherapy along with surgery.
In case of advanced tumors, an extensive surgery called TECA-BO may be done. The surgery involves removing the outer, inner ear canal, and middle ear. Only the ear flap is left alone.
5. Aural Hematoma
An aural hematoma is basically a collection of fresh or clotted blood in the dog’s ear flap. Blood vessels are running below the skin of the external ear. If these vessels burst, then blood can pool into the space between the skin layers.
The excess blood can thicken the ear flap in parts or completely. If you touch the swollen ear flap, it may have a spongy texture.
Causes of aural hematoma include infections, bite wounds, or foreign body stuck in the ear. They can lead the dog to aggressively shake its head and scratch the ear, increasing the chances of blood vessel rupture. Dogs with blood clotting disorders can also develop this condition.
Aural hematoma can be painful for your furry friend. If left as is, it can affect nearby tissues and block the ear canal.
The blood needs to be drained from the ear flap, and surgery is the effective method.
The vet can make a small incision on either side of the hematoma or open it up completely. A drain will be passed to remove the collected blood in case of an incision. The space where the blood pooled will be stitched up, and the area will be bandaged for additional support.
Some dogs may require multiple visits to the vet to drain the pooled blood. Steroids and other medications will be prescribed for effective healing. Once the hematoma is treated, the underlying cause, like infection, is also treated.
6. Ear Mites
These parasitic mites sit on the skin’s surface and ear canals rather than burrowing into them. The ear mites are 1 to 2mm long. They can only be seen under a microscope. Dogs with ear mites can show symptoms like head shaking, scratching, discharge and odor. The dog may also develop secondary infections.
Ear mites are contagious. If the dog comes into contact with the infected animal, especially if they share living and sleeping spaces, it can get ear mites.
These mites are first laid as eggs and grow into adult mites over three weeks. They can live on the skin’s surface for about two months. They eat the dirt and debris on the dog’s skin and ear canal, which causes inflammation.
The vet will take an ear swab and study the sample under the microscope. Eggs and adult mites will be well visible here.
Once confirmed, treatment involves cleaning of the ears and medication. Then, the vet can prescribe topicals or drugs or may give injections.
Most dogs recover well from ear mites; some may require multiple vet visits. It is necessary to keep the dog’s surroundings clean. Wash its blankets, beds, and mats to ensure no mite eggs are lurking behind.
Also Read: Ultimate Guide To Dog Health
What Should I Do About My Dog’s Head Shaking?
As you have seen above, all the answers to the question, why does my dog keep shaking his head, have overlapping symptoms.
For example, if your dog’s head shaking persists even after a day or two, check for other symptoms like:
- Excessive scratching
- Swelling of the ear
- Ear discharge
- Foul odor
- Abnormal growth
These causes can be uncomfortable or painful for the dog. Do not attempt to apply topicals without knowing what type of organism, irritant or foreign object is the issue. It would be best to get the dog checked by the vet.
How Should I Clean My Dog’s Ears?
Dirt build-up is also one of the causes that can contribute to irritation, infections, and canal obstruction. In addition, topicals may be less potent when applied to ears that have wax build-up. Thus ear cleaning is vital for your dog’s grooming routine.
On the other hand, over-cleaning your dog’s ears can also cause issues. So first, understand what healthy dog ears look like. They are typically pink and odorless. Cleaning should be done when you notice any dirt or odor. If unsure, discuss the cleaning frequency with the vet.
Use a vet-approved dog ear cleaning solution. First, fill the dog’s ear canal with the solution. Then, gently massage the ear’s base for 30 seconds. This should be enough time for the solution to break down dirt and wax build-up.
Your dog might shake its head at this point. Use a towel to clean up the dog’s face and the mess it may have created. Next, clean the ear canal with a cotton ball, soft towel, or gauze. Avoid using a pointed cotton swab as it can push the dirt deeper and may hurt the ear if used incorrectly.
Why does my dog keep shaking his head? The reason could be an issue with its ears.
For example, it can be an irritant like grass seeds, water, insects, or a foreign object stuck in its ears. It could be an allergy or infection caused by bacteria or parasites. Or it could be because of abnormal growth in the ear canal.
If you see signs like head shaking, scratching, redness, swelling, discharge, and odor, it would be best to visit the vet. Treatment may involve ear cleaning, medication, topicals, and in some cases, surgery.
Head shaking is a habit that, when done infrequently, is perfectly normal. But if your dog keeps at the behavior, the vet can find the reason for the same.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.