Persistent head shaking could point to a medical issue.
Head shaking is normal dog behavior. Without fingers and thumbs, dogs instinctively shake their heads to relieve discomfort, itchiness or irritation; it’s an effective way to clear the ear canal of water, dirt or insects. Understanding why your dog shakes their head can help you find the best path toward relief.
While the occasional head shake isn’t cause for concern, regular and persistent head shaking is abnormal and could signal a possible medical issue. If your dog keeps shaking their head more than usual, it may be a sign of infection that requires professional treatment. Consult your veterinarian right away if your dog’s head shaking is frequent and lasts for more than a day, or if your dog has red, swollen and smelly ears.
Learn more about four common medical reasons your dog might be frequently shaking their head.
1. Ear Infections (Otitis Externa) in Dogs
Canine otitis externa, also known as an ear infection, occurs when a dog’s outer ear canal is inflamed. Common causes include allergies, ear mites, trapped water and heavy, floppy ears. Ear infections are the second-most-common reason for vet visits and are often accompanied by a range of symptoms:
- Red and swollen ears
- Ear scratching
- Head shaking
- Odor in the ear
In most cases, ear infections require professional medical treatment and will not go away on their own. Dogs that have suffered from otitis externa once may be at a higher risk of experiencing it again. If left untreated, an ear infection can worsen and lead to permanent changes to the structures of the ear, possibly affecting hearing as well.
Discuss ways to prevent and treat canine otitis externa with your veterinarian. Also ask your vet about Claro® (florfenicol, terbinafine, mometasone furoate) Otic Solution, a one-dose ear infection treatment administered by a vet that provides up to 30 days of mess-free relief for your dog. Claro® acts as an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, which works to relieve discomfort while treating the infection at the same time.
2. Ear Damage or Trauma
Dogs can sometimes injure themselves while going for a run, playing at the dog park or exploring a wooded trail. If you notice a change in your dog’s behavior (sudden lethargy, subdued temperament or showing signs of ear pain and sensitivity), the cause could be an ear injury. Consult your veterinarian right away.
3. Foreign Objects
Head shaking can signal that something is lodged in your dog’s ear. Grass seeds and grass awns, also known as foxtails, are common objects that may get stuck in your dog’s ear, becoming embedded and causing irritation. Your dog’s ears are also quite sensitive, so even small, difficult-to-see objects can cause discomfort. It’s best to seek the care of a vet who can use the proper tools to safely assess the situation and remove the foreign object.
If you notice ear inflammation or your pet scratching their ears vigorously, something could be in their ear(s) that shouldn’t. Reach out to your vet to determine a treatment plan.
4. Ear Hematomas
An ear hematoma, or blood blister, occurs when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the space between the skin and cartilage of a dog’s ear flap, resulting in discolored skin, swelling, bleeding and pain. Your veterinarian may also prescribe corticosteroids like prednisone instead of surgery. Hematomas are usually caused by overly aggressive scratching or head shaking resulting from an underlying medical condition, such as an ear infection or skin condition.
Treatments range from draining the hematoma with a needle to surgical correction. Your veterinarian may also prescribe corticosteroids like prednisone instead of surgery. It’s important to treat the blood blister immediately to avoid infection and further damage, and to determine what underlying condition caused the scratching and head shaking in the first place. In many cases, a bacterial infection or itchy skin condition is also present. While ear hematomas aren’t easily preventable, treating the underlying issues that cause head shaking will help reduce the risk of this complication. Your vet can help you find the best treatment plan for your dog.
Can I Fix My Dog’s Constant Head Shaking at Home?
Chronic head shaking can be just one of many indicators of a potentially serious health issue. If you notice your dog shaking their head frequently, or exhibiting additional symptoms like inflamed ears, scratching, ear sensitivity or an unpleasant odor coming from the ears, consult your vet right away.
Trying to treat the source of your dog’s head shaking at home can be messy, annoying and sometimes ineffective or even dangerous. If you find yourself asking, Why does my dog keep shaking their head? it’s best to reach out to your veterinarian for a treatment plan to ensure you’re safely relieving the discomfort at the source.
CLARO is indicated for the treatment of otitis externa in dogs associated with susceptible strains of yeast (Malassezia pachydermatis) and bacteria (Staphylococcus pseudintermedius).
Important Safety Information
Do not use in cats.
CLARO should be administered by veterinary personnel.
CLARO may cause eye injury and irritation. Splatter may occur if the dog shakes its head following administration. If contact with eyes occurs, flush copiously with water for at least 15 minutes. If irritation persists, contact a physician.
Do not use in dogs with known tympanic membrane perforation (ruptured eardrum). Adverse reactions may occur following administration of CLARO. Observe your dog for signs such as ear pain, irritation, vomiting, head shaking, head tilt, in-coordination, eye pain and discharge. Contact your veterinarian if any of these signs are observed.
For complete safety information, please see Claro product label or ask your veterinarian.
Claro, Elanco and the diagonal bar logo are trademarks of Elanco or its affiliates.