Idiopathic Head Tremors in Dogs

Written By Michele K.
Published: 06/14/2017Updated: 10/28/2021
Veterinary reviewed by Michele K.
Idiopathic Head Tremors in Dogs - Signs, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What are Idiopathic Head Tremors?

This condition is considered idiopathic because the cause is still unknown. There are many  possible causes for head shaking such as seizures, nervous system disorders, or head injuries, but when those conditions are not present, it is called 'idiopathic'.  This condition is usually seen more often in immature to middle aged dogs and some breeds are more susceptible than others. Head tremors have also been suspected as being reason for the condition called white dog shaker syndrome.

Idiopathic head tremors in dogs are characterized as an involuntary side to side or up and down movement of the head. The movement has been referred to as a head bob like a bobble head doll. Head tremors have also been compared to Parkinson’s disease in humans. It is not a voluntary shake of the head such as is seen with ear itching or infections. Some of the breeds most often reported as having head tremors include Boxers, Spaniels, Chow Chows, Samoyeds, Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, Dalmatians, Pitbulls, and Bulldogs.

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Symptoms of Idiopathic Head Tremors in Dogs

The signs of head tremor in dogs include:

  • Head bobbing back and forth (similar to bobble-head doll)
  • Shaking head up and down (like saying yes)
  • Shaking head (like saying no)

Types of head tremors

  • Cerebellar head tremors (intention tremors) can be related to damage to the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that controls coordination; these are usually noticed when your dog is intending to do something such as reaching to his food or water bowl
  • Toxin related head tremors are caused by the ingestion of some toxins such as rat poison, slug or snail baits, or compost
  • Drug related head tremors have been reported in dogs that have ingested certain drugs like antidepressants, amphetamines, and anti-emetics
  • Idiopathic head tremors  include any form of head tremors in which the cause is unknown

Causes of Idiopathic Head Tremors in Dogs

The most common head tremors do not have a known cause, but there are other types of head tremors that have certain causes such as:

  • Injury or trauma to the head
  • Certain medications
  • Extreme pain
  • Renal (kidney) disorders
  • Low blood sugar
  • Low calcium level
  • Toxicity from chemicals or plants
  • Central nervous system (CNS) disease
  • Swelling of the brain

Diagnosis of Idiopathic Head Tremors in Dogs

Diagnosing head tremors can be difficult, especially when it is idiopathic. However, the veterinarian will do this by excluding other causes and narrowing down the diagnosis. The first step is to perform a comprehensive physical examination. This usually includes a complete assessment of your dog’s entire body, including vital signs, auscultation, and palpation.

The veterinarian will also need your dog’s complete medical history and immunization records. Be sure to mention any medications you have given him. Laboratory tests will likely be done next, which usually include a complete blood count, blood urea nitrogen, blood sugar, urinalysis, fecal examination, and electrolyte analysis. Finally, your veterinary care provider may recommend head and spinal x-rays and possibly do a CT scan, MRI, and ultrasound.

Treatment of Idiopathic Head Tremors in Dogs

Treatment for head tremors caused by a condition or problem involves addressing the underlying illness or condition your veterinarian finds. This may be medical or surgical, depending on the cause.


If your dog is suffering from some sort of treatable condition of the cerebellum, the veterinarian may prescribe an anticonvulsant drug such as potassium bromide, diazepam, or phenobarbital or an immunosuppressive dose of corticosteroids. If your dog is suffering from a toxin or drug ingestion, an emetic will usually be used to induce vomiting and an antidote will be given, if available. Intravenous fluids are given to flush the system and prevent dehydration. Mannitol may be given for CNS problems. Kidney disorders may be treated with medication or surgery, depending on the case.


If your dog has a CNS condition or cerebellum damage, a surgical approach may be the best option. In some cases, the pressure may need to be relieved from the brain and the veterinarian may place a shunt to redirect the fluid.


If your dog is having trouble breathing or needs to be stabilized, the veterinarian may admit him to the hospital until he is stable. The length of stay depends on your dog’s condition and the cause of the head tremors.

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Recovery of Idiopathic Head Tremors in Dogs

While head tremors may seem like a serious condition, in the majority of cases it is an idiopathic tremor that is not dangerous and probably bothers you more than your dog. In fact, he may not even know it is happening. However, if your dog has a serious condition or needs surgery, his prognosis depends on the situation, and seeking veterinary attention is important. Generally, the overall prognosis for idiopathic head tremors is good.

Head tremors can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog has head tremors or is at risk, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Trupanion. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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Idiopathic Head Tremors Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals


English Bulldog



Two Years


49 found this helpful


49 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Head Tremors
Yesterday she had her first head tremor episode 30 mins after that again we took her to emergency blood work and everything else came out fine. At 5am she got it again and after that she’s been getting them throughout the whole day . Seems to happen when she’s trying to take a nap or is trying to relax . Took her to her regular vet this morning studies came out good days maybe an mri should be next. How can I calm her tremors so she can sleep .. plz help . I have a video of her having a tremor just in case

May 6, 2021

Answered by Dr. Sara O. DVM

49 Recommendations

Hello, this could be small seizures. Your vet could prescribe medication to help keep her calm. I do think that an MRI may be needed to figure out exactly what is causing this. I would ask for a neurology consult for your dog.

May 6, 2021

Was this question and answer helpful?

Shorkie Tzu



Eight Months


48 found this helpful


48 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Bobbing Of The Head
My dogs head is bobbing back and forth

Dec. 13, 2020

Answered by Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

48 Recommendations

This may or may not be a concern. It would be important to rule out a partial seizure if it seems compulsive. I would advise videoing the event so your vet can see, in case they don't do it during the check up.

Dec. 13, 2020

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