Why do dogs shake their heads? – 7 reasons to know

How many times have you seen your dog shaking its head? Perhaps you wonder why this happens and if you should be concerned about it.

So, why do dogs shake their heads?

Dogs don’t have hands with fingers so they instinctively shake their heads if they feel discomfort. Below we will try to provide all possible reasons why do dogs shake their heads.

Why do dogs shake their heads?

Dogs shake their heads because they feel discomfort, itchiness, or irritation caused by water, dirt, insects, or inflammation.

When you see your dog having an occasional head shake it is very normal, but when shaking happens regularly it could be an alarm to get their ears checked by a vet.

Before we consider when you should be worried, let’s go through all the reasons why do dogs shake their heads.


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#1 Water in the ear canal

If you own a Border Collie, Spaniel, Poodle, or any water liking dog, you often see your dog coming out of the water and shaking off the water from their body.

They may also shake their head if water went inside their ears. It is normal, nothing to worry about. However, when water remains in the ears it can cause ear canal inflammation, and if this happens it has to be treated.

#2 Dog allergies

Dog allergies can be another problem. Allergies can cause ears to become inflamed and it can lead to infections as well.

Treating your dog allergy can be a long process, but once the cause of the allergy is identified it will be easier for you to avoid some food or environments.

Also, dogs that suffered from an ear infection are more likely to get it again.

#3 Ear mites

Ear mites are common parasites in dogs but they are more likely to occur in cats. 

It is unlikely that your dog gets an ear infection from mites, but they definitely can cause a serious irritation making your dog shake its head extensively. Dogs may also scratch their ears with paws.

Ear mites may also cause a dry black ear discharge that can have an unpleasant odour.

#4 Fleas and ticks

Parasites like fleas and ticks are a common problem if your dog has some. The parasites can penetrate your dog’s ears causing an unpleasant feeling and irritation.

#5 Polyps or Growths

Rarely happens that dogs develop polyps or growths inside the ear canal. 

Growths usually attach to the lining of the ear and polyps are caused by wax-producing glands in the ear. They are normally not cancerous.

#6 Excessive Ear Wax

Dogs that have regular ear infections or those that stress a lot are more prone to have excessive ear wax. The wax build-up can cause a fungal or bacterial infection.

#7 Unseen injury

When you let your dog run free, you often are not able to control all the time what your canine is doing. It may happen that dogs injure themselves while playing with sticks or other dogs.

If you see that your dog suddenly is behaving weirdly, like shaking ahead, it means something happen and you did not see it. 

Check your dog’s ears for any signs of injury or inflammation around the ears and visit your vet immediately.

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What are the symptoms of ear inflammation?

Typical symptoms of ear inflammation are:

  • Head shaking
  • Ear scratching
  • Red and swollen ears
  • Discharge 
  • Odour

If you see your dog shaking its head often plus other symptoms listed above you have to visit a vet to treat it. Untreated ear inflammation can lead to permanent changes in the ear structure and cause hearing loss as well.

How to treat ear infections?

When you visit your vet, one of the below treatments might be prescribed.

  • Antibiotics – usually do the job quickly similar to humans
  • Ear drops – easy to apply, but if the dog is in pain oral antibiotics is in option
  • Anti-inflammatory tablets – for the pain
  • Dietary changes – especially for dogs with allergies
  • Ear flush – performed by a vet, but you can be instructed to do it yourself especially when your dog develops a lot of wax
  • Selamectin or moxidectin to treat mites
  • Anti-parasite medication for fleas and ticks
  • Thorough ear clean up under anaesthetics
  • Surgery to remove polyps
Why do dogs shake their heads - after a shake-min

How to prevent ear infections?

As pet owners, we can always do something to prevent your dog from shaking his head that is usually caused by an inflamed ear or something stuck inside.

  • Avoid tall grass or plants – it is more likely your dog gets something in his ears while running around high grass or plants. It could be a piece of grass or an insect that may cause irritation, so controlling the outdoor environment is important.
  • Regular ear clean up – especially for dogs with frequent ear infections and wax buildup. Done by a vet, or you can be trained to do it as well.
  • Use parasite medication – administer a periodical (monthly or 3-monthly) parasite medication to prevent fleas and ticks
  • Monitor allergies – avoid food that your dog is allergic with
  • Premium food – we always recommend premium food that does not have corn, soy, dyes, wheat or dairy products.

Why do dogs shake their heads? – Summary

Dogs often shake their heads. Especially after a swim to get rid of the access to water. 

If they do it from time to time it is normal and there is nothing to worry about. However, if you notice it happens for a few consecutive days, just visit your vet, to check the dog’s ears and apply adequate medication.

Remember, that ear treatment can be really expensive, so it is best to act fast. It can be as simple as giving the dog antibiotics or clean their ears.

If your dog is healthy, you will be the happy owner all the time!

Tell us your story. Have your dog had an ear infection that was difficult to treat? Please drop a comment below.


Brain Training for Dogs

Brain Training for Dogs was developed by CPDT-KA certified dog trainer Adrianne Farricelli. CPDT-KA stands for Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed.

Adrienne lives in Arizona with her husband and two amazing Rottweilers and she is passionate about dogs. She was featured in USA Today and Every Dog magazine and also contributed to eHow and All Experts.

Her Brain Training for Dogs program helped thousands of struggling dog owners all over the world.

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