Why Your Dog Keeps Shaking His Head and How to Help

Common reasons a dog keeps shaking his head include having water or debris in his ear canal, allergies, irritants, or inflammation. Ear infections (otitis externa) may cause discharge and require treatment. Depending on the cause, you could try this gentle method to clean your dog's ears at home.

Why Your Dog Keeps Shaking His Head and How to Help

Common reasons a dog keeps shaking his head include having water or debris in his ear canal, allergies, irritants, or inflammation. Ear infections (otitis externa) may cause discharge and require treatment. Depending on the cause, you could try this gentle method to clean your dog's ears at home.

Why Your Dog Keeps Shaking His Head and How to Help

Photo by Gabe

Dogs shake their heads because it's an efficient way for them to get something out of their ears that shouldn't be there, like water or debris. But if your dog keeps shaking his head repeatedly and the behavior does not stop for a day or so, it might be a sign of inflammation, infection, allergies, or something more serious that your veterinarian needs to look at.

Let's explore some of the common and more serious reasons why a dog might keep shaking his head. We'll also take a look at a simple home remedy that might help him.

Why Your Dog Keeps Shaking His Head

Head shaking is probably nothing to be concerned about as long as it is infrequent. However, it can become a problem if you notice that your dog keeps shaking his head.

The most common causes of dogs shaking their heads are easily treated by your veterinarian once they are diagnosed; however, ear conditions can quickly become more serious if left untreated.

Here are the most common causes of repetitive head shaking.

Debris Trapped in His Ears

Shaking the head is an effective way for your dog to clear the ear canal of debris such as grass seeds, dirt, or insects. When dogs shake their heads, they are usually successful at getting small, loose pieces of debris out by themselves. However, if your dog keeps shaking his head, it could be a sign that something is lodged there. A veterinarian might need to take a look inside the ear canal.

Water in His Ears

Head shaking caused by water in the ears is easily avoided by inserting cotton balls into your dog's ears before bathing or swimming. During a bath, avoid spraying or dumping water directly on your dog's head. Instead, bathe him from the neck down and use a damp washcloth to clean his face and ears. If your dog cannot tolerate cotton balls in his ears while swimming, try cleaning his ears with a drying solution afterwards. A safe method for doing this is described later in this article.

Inflammation of the Ear Canal

Otitis externa, also known as ear canal inflammation, is a painful condition that affects approximately 20% of dogs. When the layer of cells that lines the external ear canal becomes inflamed, a dog may scratch his ears, keep shaking his head vigorously, hold his ears in an abnormal position, and/or have foul-smelling ear discharge.

Dogs are prone to ear inflammation in part due to their "L-shaped" ear formation. This makes it more difficult for wax, oil, and other debris to exit the canal. It also encourages the growth of the small amount of yeast and bacteria found in the ear canal. Your veterinarian will need to examine the ear canal to determine the cause of the inflammation and the appropriate course of treatment.

Ear Infections

A bacterial or yeast ear infection is the most commonly diagnosed health problem that causes excessive head shaking in dogs. Keep in mind that infections can occur deep within a dog's ear, so an infection may exist even if there are no visible signs of it. Ear infections are itchy, cause a lot of discharge, and cause inflammation, all of which cause dogs to shake their heads. An infection is likely if you lift the flap of your dog's ear and see redness, swelling, or discharge. Ear mite infestations can produce similar symptoms, but they are less common than yeast or bacterial infections, which are more common in adult dogs.

Itchy Ears Caused by Allergies

They may be allergic to certain foods or environmental triggers such as pollen, mold spores, dust, or mites. Allergies in dogs are characterized by itchy skin, hair loss, recurring skin, and ear infections. They will scratch at their ears, keep shaking their heads, chew on their feet, and rub at their face.

To diagnose a food allergy, a dog is offered a single carbohydrate, such as rice or potato, and a single source of protein that has never been fed to him before. It is most likely that a food allergy exists if the symptoms disappear or significantly improve while eating this diet. Environmental allergies are best diagnosed through intradermal skin testing, but some dogs may benefit from blood testing.

A dog might keep shaking his head if he has water lodged in his ear canal

Photo by Mark Stebnicki

More Serious Causes of Head Shaking

Ear mites or other parasites in the ear, aural hemorrhage (blood blister inside an ear flap), ear polyps (growths inside the ear canal), or even a secondary infection in the ear are all less common but still troubling causes for dogs to shake their heads frequently.

More serious health conditions that might cause a dog to keep shaking his head include foreign objects lodged in the ear canal, inflammatory diseases, and even neurologic disorders that cause head tremors that are easily confused with head shaking.

Diagnosis and treatment of a dog's head shaking are critical, not only because it is a symptom of a potentially serious problem. Also, continued or particularly vigorous head shaking can lead to ruptured blood vessels within the dog's ear flap. The aural hematomas that result frequently necessitate surgery to repair, which is why we should try to prevent excessive head shaking rather than just treat it when it occurs.

Diagnosis and treatment of frequent head shaking in dogs are critical for their health

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

What to Do if Your Dog Keeps Shaking His Head

If your dog continues to shake his head or scratch his ears, or if his ears appear red and irritated, it's time to take him to the vet. Aural hematomas can be caused by head shaking and are frequently repaired surgically. When the cause of your dog's head shaking is identified early, your veterinarian can treat the problem before it worsens.

How Can I Treat My Dog’s Otitis at Home?

Although you should not attempt to treat an ear infection on your own, you can gently cleanse your dog's ears at home (with your vet's guidance). This is done by towel drying the outer ear of any moisture (for example, if he's just been swimming or bathing) and then cleaning it with a specialized dog ear cleaning solution and absorbent gauze.

Choose a dog ear cleaning solution or saline from your pet store, or ask your veterinarian for a prescription. Dog ear cleaners contain ingredients that effectively dry out the ear canals, eliminate bacteria and yeast, and disperse harmful wax and debris. Furthermore, they are designed to be gentle on your dog's ears.

You should only use pet-friendly cleaners that have been approved by veterinarians. Head shaking in dogs due to ear conditions could be further irritated by household products such as hydrogen peroxide or apple cider vinegar. These may cause harm to the sensitive tissue of a dog's ear. If you are unsure, consult your veterinarian.


  • Why Do Dogs Shake Their Head? | PetMD
    Some dog behaviors are normal but become a problem when you begin to see them with regularity. Head shaking falls into this category. When should you start to worry about your pet’s head shaking? Learn more here.
  • Ear Infections in Dogs (Otitis Externa) | VCA Animal Hospital
    Infection of the external ear canal (outer ear infection) is called otitis externa and is one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs. Some breeds, particularly those with large, floppy or hairy ears like Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Poodle

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Louise Fiolek

(Excluding for the Headline, this article ("story") has not been edited by MiBiz News and is published from a web feed or sourced from the Internet.)