Why Do Bulldogs Shake Their Heads



If you've ever witnessed your Bulldog vigorously shaking his head, you know it can appear to be a disturbing thing. Not only does it dispense a vast amount of drool all over your house, it also seems to be a great source of irritation to your dog. Is this a normal behavior for Bulldogs, or is there something more to it? Some dog activities are common to all breeds while others seem to only affect a few. A thorough researching of your breed's history as well as the origins of the modern dog can help us gain powerful insights into why our dogs behave as they do. Is there a medical reason for all of the head shaking, or is it simply a behavioral issue? Frequent and pronounced head shaking can be indicative of health problems in your Bulldog. While the occasional shake might just serve as a form of a canine stretch, Bulldogs who exhibit regular head shaking behaviors are in need of veterinary attention to rule out more serious health issues. Is your dog just trying to limber himself up before taking off to his next activity, or is there something wrong?

The Root of the Behavior

History traces the beloved Bulldog's roots to England in the 1200's. In the 13th century, English sportsmen were involved in bull-baiting, a practice which pitted a lone bull against a grouping of game dogs in a battle to the death. Observers of the fight placed bets on the animal(s) they believed would emerge victoriously. Because the Bulldog was bred to serve this purpose, the original prototype of the breed possessed incredibly strong jaws, a fiercely courageous nature, and a high tolerance for pain. In 1835, England made a progressive move and banned all dog fighting sports. Unfortunately, this simply drove this cruel practice underground where dogs were pitted against each other in fighting rings in cold, damp basements. The Bulldog was far too large and cumbersome to effectively compete in this type of blood sport. Because of this, he was released from his former responsibility as a fighting dog. Consequently, this left the Bulldog as an undesirable pet and in danger of extinction. Yet the Bulldog remained a fan favorite of many different Englishmen who sought to refine and preserve the breed by selectively breeding to produce a Bulldog who would be more ideally suited to life as a family pet. The Bulldog carries the distinction of being recognized as the national dog of England but is also proudly featured as the mascot dog for a number of United States football teams. 

The Bulldog is also the chosen status symbol for the U.S. Marine Corps and Mack Trucks. The Bulldog gets his name from the practice he was originally bred to do. He was intended to be a dog who fought bulls. Thankfully, today, he takes pride of place beside family hearths and is much renowned for his gentle, low key spirit, and comical manner. Bulldogs are predisposed to a number of health conditions including what is known as idiopathic head tremors. Though it is unknown what causes this illness in Bulldogs, it is an ailment reputedly seen often in the breed. Idiopathic head tremors are particularly concerning because the shaking of the head appears randomly yet without the necessary control to stop the behavior. This serious health issue is first evidenced by what appears to be an unexplained bobbing of the head. This motion may occur in different directions, with up and down being the most common movement, but side to side seen in Bulldogs as well. Dogs suffering with this condition generally see an onset of symptoms as early as 6 months of age with 3 years typically being the "cutoff" age during which signs occur.

Encouraging the Behavior

A session of idiopathic head tremors seen in a Bulldog generally lasts a full three minutes in duration. There are no lasting reactions following a seizure. Sadly, this condition is not responsive to typical anti-convulsive medications. Veterinarians report that as the dog ages, the episodes become fewer and generally fade out entirely. Treatment for idiopathic head tremors is to attempt to engage your dog's focus on a beloved toy or another familiar object until the seizure passes. Since idiopathic head tremors may be symptomatic of other more serious health ailments, it is important to consult your veterinarian at the first sign of this condition. These episodes may indicate the presence of other life-altering diseases such as epilepsy, cancerous tumors of the brain, or other ailments of the nervous system. Certain triggers for these types of seizures have been identified. Researchers report that episodes are seen more frequently in response to external stimuli such as food, medications, or flea and tick preventatives. Females in the midst of a heat cycle are more at risk for this seizure-like behavior as are dogs that have just engaged in a rigorous bout of activity. 

Many dogs shake their heads as a sign that they are experiencing some sort of irritation. There are many different problems that could be causing your dog to attempt to shake off his pain. Among the leading culprits are ear injuries or infections, a fall that causes a blow to the head, or balance issues affected by inner ear malfunctioning. If you suspect your Bulldog is suffering from an ear infection, there are several clues that will help you discern if this is indeed the case. Dogs with ear infections generally exhibit a black, waxy buildup within the outer ear. This wax is extremely noxious and depending on the source of the bacteria, can be strongly reminiscent of fermenting yeast. Not only does the wax invade the outer ear, but it also lies deep within the ear canal. Treatment involves antibiotics and proper ear cleaning on a daily basis until the infection is properly resolved. If you feel your Bulldog's head shaking might be due to an ear infection, it is important that you take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible. It is critical that you never insert an instrument into your dog's ear canal. It is deeper and more curved than you might think. If you were to puncture the eardrum, it is incredibly painful for your dog. It is best to leave any treatment until your veterinarian can properly assess the condition and teach you the proper method for ear cleaning.

Other Solutions and Considerations

Allergies can also be to blame for head shaking in your Bulldog. Many external stimuli can cause autoimmune responses in our dogs and even lead to bacterial and yeast infections of the skin and in the ears. Your Bulldog may be attempting to "shake off" whatever he believes is causing his ears to feel so itchy. Allergies can be extremely difficult to source and treat. For this reason, veterinary assistance is required to help alleviate the problem. If you suspect your Bulldog's head shaking is the result of trauma to the head or balance issues, determining the source of the problem is key to providing proper treatment. In general, the head shaking will subside if the condition is not of a serious nature. However, balance issues can be of far greater concern. Dogs shaking their heads who are also unsteady on their feet may be experiencing a host of issues ranging from stroke to inner ear issues and even neurological distress. 

A lesser concern in dogs who engage in hearty head shaking is the possibility of developing aural hematomas. Aural hematomas occur when the blood vessels in the ear leather burst and flood the ear flap with fluid. While this condition is not life-threatening, it is both unsightly and uncomfortable for your dog. Treatment includes waiting for the fluid to drain on its own or surgery. Both methods are equally effective; however, they also leave your dog's ear gnarled in a fashion reminiscent of the cauliflower ears often seen in boxing professionals. Of course, your dog may simply be shaking his head to remove something he finds irritating within it. If you most frequently see him heartily shaking away after a bath, it is highly possible that your dog is simply trying to flush water out from his ears. 


Does your Bulldog like to give his head a good shake every once in a while? If your Bulldog frequently engages in this behavior, it is important to seek veterinary assistance to help him find relief. In most cases, it is a simple problem to treat; however, if a larger problem is at work, you will be glad that you sought professional advice swiftly.