Tips & Tricks

Why Is My Dog Shaking Their Head? 9 Reasons & When to See a Vet

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Have you ever seen your dog vigorously shaking their head back and forth and wondered what’s going on? While the occasional head shake is normal canine behaviour, frequent or prolonged head shaking can be a sign that something is bothering your furry friend. As a dog owner myself, I know how concerning it can be when your pup seems uncomfortable.

In this post, we’ll explore the top 9 reasons why dogs shake their heads and when it’s time to call the vet.

Let’s dive in!

Why Do Dogs Shake Their Heads?

First, it’s important to understand that brief head shaking is a normal behaviour for dogs. They might do it to dislodge a bug that landed on their head, shake off some water after a swim, or simply scratch an itch. Dogs lack opposable thumbs, so a quick head shake is an efficient way for them to deal with minor irritations.

However, if you notice your dog shaking their head repeatedly with only short pauses in between, it likely indicates a problem.

So, what might be causing your pup’s persistent head shaking? Here are the 9 most common reasons:

front view beagle dog with sticking out tongue park

1. Ear Infections

One of the most frequent reasons dogs shake their heads excessively is due to ear infections. These are pretty common canine ailments that can be caused by moisture in the ears, yeast, bacteria, ear mites, or allergies.

Besides head shaking, other signs of an ear infection include:

– Constant ear scratching

– Redness and inflammation in the ears

– Smelly brown, green, or yellow discharge from the ears

If you notice any of these signs, prompt veterinary treatment is important to relieve their discomfort and prevent the issue from getting worse. After an exam, your vet will likely prescribe medication to clear up the infection.

close up veterinary doctor taking care pet

2. Earwax Buildup

Just like humans, dogs naturally produce earwax. But sometimes it can build up excessively, leading to discomfort, reduced airflow, and potentially an infection. If your dog’s ears look gunky and smell bad but aren’t red or inflamed, it’s probably time for a cleaning.

You can gently clean your dog’s ears at home using a vet-approved ear cleaner. If a thorough cleaning doesn’t resolve the head shaking, make an appointment with your vet to rule out other issues.

vet doctor checking dog s ear

3. Water in the Ears

Many dogs love to swim and splash around in the water. But just like us, they can get water trapped in their ears which can be really annoying and uncomfortable. Usually some vigorous head shaking will clear it out, but you may need to help dry your pup’s ears with a soft towel.

To prevent water from getting in your dog’s ears in the first place, try placing a cotton ball at the opening of each ear before swimming or bathing. Just remember to remove the cotton balls afterwards.

a husky swimming

4. Dirt or Debris

Dogs who spend lots of time playing outdoors can easily get dirt, grass seeds, or other debris stuck in their ears. If you notice your adventurous pup shaking their head more than usual, take a peek inside their ears.

Carefully remove any visible debris, then clean the ears as you would for waxy buildup. If the head shaking persists, it’s best to have your vet take a look in case there’s something lodged deeper in the ear canal.

short coated brown dog beside coconut shell

5. Foreign Objects

In addition to dirt and debris, other foreign objects like bugs or plant material can make their way into your dog’s ears and cause irritation. If you spot something in there and your dog’s ears don’t look too red or painful, you can try to gently remove the object yourself.

However, if your dog seems very uncomfortable or you can’t easily get the foreign body out, it’s safer to let your veterinarian handle it. They have special instruments to remove objects without damaging the delicate ear structures.

smiling female with dog near fence and plants

6. Ticks

Ticks are nasty little parasites that can attach themselves to your dog’s skin, often around the ears, causing itchiness and discomfort. If you live in an area with ticks, always check your dog after they’ve been outside, especially in wooded or grassy areas.

If you do find a tick on your pup, use tweezers or a tick removal tool to carefully take it out, making sure you get the entire body. If you’re unable to remove the whole tick or think there may be one deep in the ear canal, contact your vet right away as embedded ticks can transmit diseases.

a dog having a checkup on a veterinary

7. Allergies

Dogs, like people, can suffer from allergies to things in their environment like pollen, mold, or dust mites. Food allergies are also possible, though less common. If your dog is shaking their head a lot and also showing symptoms like excessive paw licking, hot spots, skin rashes, or diarrhea, allergies could be to blame.

Identifying and avoiding allergens is the best way to provide relief. Your vet might suggest allergy testing to identify what’s triggering your pup’s symptoms. Treatment options include anti-itch medications, medicated baths, and hypoallergenic diets.

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8. Growths in the Ear

Occasionally the cause of head shaking is a growth inside the ear, such as a polyp, cyst, or tumor. These growths are usually benign but can still be bothersome for your dog, especially as they get bigger.

If you notice any unusual lumps or bumps in your dog’s ears, it’s advisable to have them checked out by a vet. They may recommend removing the growth to alleviate your dog’s discomfort.

human s hand dog s paw handshake

9. Neurological Disorders

In rare cases, frequent head shaking and tilting may indicate a neurological issue rather than an ear-related problem. Other red flags include difficulty walking, facial distortion, loss of balance, or crying out in pain.

If you observe any of these symptoms along with persistent head shaking, contact your vet immediately. They may refer you to a veterinary neurologist for advanced diagnostics like an MRI or spinal tap.

When to See the Vet for Your Dog’s Head Shaking

dog wear e collar

As we’ve seen, there are many potential reasons behind your dog’s head shaking, and some are more serious than others. It’s time to call your veterinarian if:

– The head shaking is constant or frequent and doesn’t improve with ear cleaning

– Your dog seems very uncomfortable, painful, or lethargic

– You observe other symptoms like ear discharge, facial swelling, or difficulty walking

– The ear flap looks puffy or filled with fluid (a possible sign of an aural hematoma)

side view cute dog bathtub outdoors

Aural hematomas can develop when vigorous head shaking ruptures blood vessels in the ear flap. Prompt treatment is needed to avoid permanent damage and ear deformity. Your vet might suggest surgery to fix the ear and prevent it from happening again.

For most other causes of head shaking, your vet will perform a thorough ear exam and maybe take samples for testing. Once they determine the underlying issue, they can prescribe targeted treatments like ear drops, oral medications, or medicated ear cleaners.

view adorable chihuahua dog getting some treats home

Final Words

An occasional head shake is nothing to worry about, but if your dog shakes their head frequently or vigorously, it could signal discomfort that needs attention. Promptly identifying and addressing the cause is the best way to get your furry friend feeling better fast.

I hope this post has given you a better understanding of the common causes behind head shaking in dogs and when it’s time to seek veterinary care. Does your dog ever shake their head a lot? Feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments below!

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The Loobani Pet Blog is all about helping pet parents enhance their pups’ health. To learn more about our fancy dog puzzle toys, visit Our clever designs make snack time fun and enriching, giving dogs the mental and physical exercise they need. We strive to provide plenty of enrichment for our furry friends so they can enjoy their healthiest, happiest lives.


About Zelda D.Nelson

As a lifelong dog lover and proud mom to two energetic rescue pups, I know firsthand how important puzzle toys are for providing dogs with much-needed mental and physical stimulation. After over a decade of experience raising well-adjusted, happy dogs, I joined the Loobani Pet team to help other pet parents discover the joy and benefits of dog puzzles. Through my work at Loobani Pet, I've become an expert on the ins and outs of various interactive dog toys. My goal is to simplify the selection process so you can easily pinpoint the perfect puzzles to match your pup's needs and lifestyle. Whether you need a toy to challenge your brainy breed, keep your power chewer occupied, or simply provide some rainy day fun, I've got you covered.