Heading shaking is natural in dogs. They may do it when they play or wake up. But if your dog is shaking their head excessively, it could be one of several issues.
If you find yourself wondering, “why is my dog shaking their head so much,” it’s a good time to sit up and pay attention. Excessive head shaking is a common symptom of a health issue and may need you to take a closer look. Of course, sometimes dogs shake their heads for harmless reasons, so it can be overlooked. Here’s what you need to know if you see your dog shaking their head a lot.
Common Reasons Dogs Shake Their Head
Dogs shake their heads for many reasons, including getting rid of water after a swim, as part of playing tug, or because of various medical issues such as allergies, infections, and even tumors. Here are the most common possible reasons for excessive head shaking.
Inflammation And Infection
A common cause of head shaking is inflammation in the canal or otitis. This can happen because of foreign objects, allergies, irritants, or parasites. When inflammation is caused by or linked to a fungicidal or bacterial infection, it becomes an infection.
It is vital to clean your dog’s ears regularly to prevent ear infections. Ear Cleaner For Dogs removes excess pathogens and wax and helps maintain a healthy ear. If you notice changes in the color of your dog’s ear wax, consult our earwax color chart to see if they have an infection.
Various types of allergies can cause your dog to shake their head if their ears become itchy. You can read this article about itchy dog ears for more on this problem and other causes of itchy ears.
Occasionally dogs develop blood blisters on the inside of their ear flap (pinna). This is a painful condition that can lead to a lot of swelling and discomfort. Like many other conditions, they may tilt their head or try to scratch it.
These blood blisters can be caused by many factors, including allergies, autoimmune diseases, von Willebrand’s Disease, injury, and infection.
Sometimes a dog can develop tiny tumors or growths in their ear canals. They can be benign and form in the ear glands or more aggressive if they start in the ear lining. Chronic ear inflammation may cause these tumors, so if your dog has a head shaking problem, be sure to have your vet look for these potentially dangerous growths.
Grass Awns And Foreign Objects
An overlooked, but prevalent reason a dog may be shaking their head and tilting it to one side is grass awns. Grass “seeds” often get lodged in a dog’s nose, skin, toes, or ears.
They also have tiny barbs that prevent them from being shaken out naturally, and instead, they migrate into the middle and inner ear, where they can cause significant damage.
Unlike with allergies, the ears won’t be itchy, but your dog may paw their ear to try to remove it. It can cause damage and infection, so a vet needs to remove the foreign body.
Other foreign bodies can also enter the ear canal. This could include dust particles or insects.
Water or excess moisture that travels into the ear canal is an irritant that can cause your dog to shake their head excessively. Always be careful to clean and dry your dog’s ear after swimming, and gently rub your thumb against the ear canal to drive excess moisture up and out (not deeper into the ear).
Also, be careful not to let any water into your dog’s ears when you bathe them. Place a cotton ball in each ear to soak up any stray droplets. Remember, excess moisture in the ear can cause secondary yeast and bacterial infections.
Ear mites (Otodectic) usually infest the external ear canal and cause inflammation and head shaking. These are highly contagious among pets, and your vet needs to prescribe an appropriate parasiticide and ear wash to eliminate them. The discharge from ear mites is usually dark and waxy, looking like coffee grounds.
Other parasites that may be causing your dog to shake their head are ticks or fleas lodged in the ear passage that may irritate your dog. Use reliable tick and flea treatment if you suspect your dog has ticks.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)
Why Do Dogs Shake Their Heads When They Wake Up?
Dogs often shake their heads after waking up for the same reason they stretch. It’s a great way to shake off the grogginess and loosen up their muscles, so they’re ready for the day.
Why Do Dogs Shake Their Heads When They Have Toy?
Dogs typically shake their heads when they have a toy for three reasons. One is to bring attention to the toy and encourage you or another dog to play with them. Secondly, it is because shaking their head mimics the behavior of tearing apart prey. Games that involve chasing, grabbing, or pulling on a toy mimic hunting behaviors and satisfy an ancient predatory instinct. Shaking their heads reflects how a biting dog will do the most damage to their catch by tearing the flesh with a fast, whip-like head motion. Thirdly, it also helps them rip the object out of their playmate’s grip and “win” the game.
Why Do Dogs Shake Their Heads When They Bite?
It’s natural for a truly aggressive dog to not only grab and bite their target but also to shake their head violently when they do so. This is because by simply biting, they only inflect a puncture wound, but by shaking their head, their teeth do the maximum amount of damage to the surrounding tissue.
Dogs frequently shake their heads to get rid of irritants around their ears such as debris and water. They also often do it when they wake up, or when playing with a toy. However, excessive head shaking can be a sign of medical problems such as an infection, grass awns, or parasites.
Rosser, E. J. (2004). Causes of otitis externa. Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice, 34(2), 459-468.
Saridomichelakis, M. N., Farmaki, R., Leontides, L. S., & Koutinas, A. F. (2007). Aetiology of canine otitis externa: a retrospective study of 100 cases. Veterinary dermatology, 18(5), 341-347.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.