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What are Head Tremors?

This condition is considered idiopathic because the cause is still unknown. There are many theories about possible causes of head shaking such as seizures, nervous system disorders, or head injuries. According to the veterinary care professionals, head tremors are not usually related to any other symptoms, although some dogs have shown signs of other illnesses in addition to head tremors. These may or may not be related to head tremors. 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.

Head tremors (idiopathic tremor syndrome) 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 as 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 Head Tremors in Dogs

The symptoms 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

  • 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 are the most common and include any form of head tremors in which the cause is unknown
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Causes of Head Tremors in Dogs

The most common head tremors have an unknown cause, but there are other types of head tremors that have certain causes such as:

  • Hereditary
  • 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
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Diagnosis of Head Tremors in Dogs

Diagnosing head shaking is extremely difficult to diagnose, especially when it is idiopathic. However, the veterinarian will do this by excluding other causes and narrowing it down. 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 are 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 will get some head and spinal x-rays and possibly do a CT scan, MRI, and ultrasound.

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Treatment of Head Tremors in Dogs

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

Medical

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.

Surgical

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.

Hospitalization

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 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 case. Generally, the overall prognosis is good.

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Head Tremors Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Chihuahua

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Four Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Head Shaking

Sudden onset head shaking has not gotten into anything

Sept. 3, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Kate D. MA VetMB MRCVS

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Hello, Thanks for contacting us about your puppy; I'm sorry to hear he's not well. There are a few different things that can cause a puppy to suddenly start shaking their head -- some of which are less worrying, and some of which are more worrying. The less worrying things might be if he has something itching the inside of one ear, or even stuck between his teeth on one side of the mouth, for example. This can be very distracting and cause the dog to shake or scratch to try and dislodge the thing that is causing irritation. The more worrying things would be some kind of poisoning or even an infection or injury affecting the nerves. I see you say that he hasn't gotten into anything he shouldn't, so hopefully something like toxicity or a chemical are less likely. From your description of his movements as tremors, I would be concerned that we might be looking at something neurological like this. My best advice is to take him to a veterinary clinic and have him examined as soon as possible. If it is something straight forward like something in his ear, then they will be able to help relieve it and your little one will get back to his normal self nice and quick. If it is something neurological, and especially starting suddenly as you describe, the sooner we find out what's going on and how to treat it, the better. Hope all goes well; please let us know if we can help any further.

Sept. 3, 2020

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Alaskan Husky

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Four Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Head Shaking

My dog will occasionally shake or nod his head for around 2-3 minutes and then stops. It usually only happens when he is resting.

Aug. 4, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. This may be very normal behavior for a 4 month old puppy, as they sometimes just get tired. If it is something that is continuing to happen and you are concerned, it would be best to have your veterinarian examined him at your next preventive care appointment to make sure that his neurologic function is normal. If it starts to happen more frequently, it would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian before that, to make sure that he is okay. I hope that all goes well for him.

Aug. 4, 2020

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Shitzu mix

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Four Months

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1 found helpful

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Shake Head, Tremors, Doesn’T Eat Much, Warm Wars

My dog has been sick twice in the last two months. He has been lethargic, shaky and wobbly, has had a warm nose and ears, and doesn’t eat or drink much. He eventually will puke. He has been on two rounds of antibiotics two weeks apart. He is starting to have a shaky head again and hasn’t ate much today. They never really have an answer for me except for it may be a bacteria infection but doesn’t know why it keeps occurring.

July 26, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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Hello- If you haven’t already it would be a good idea to have full blood work performed on her so they can assess her glucose, her liver and kidney enzymes, and her general health. The next step would be imaging of the abdomen. If it is all normal then it would be a good idea to consider a consult with an internal medicine specialist so they can help figure out the cause. I hope she feels better soon.

July 26, 2020

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Pomeranian

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Eight Months

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Head Bobbng

I have a 8 month Pom that just started bobbing his head 3 days ago out of no where he seems to have no other signs but this should I be worried

July 23, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Some dogs do have head Tremors as puppies and they grow out of them, and some dogs have a congenital Tremor that may not go away. If he seems to be responsive and acting normally otherwise, it does not seem to be something that is an emergency, but it would probably be best to have him seen by a veterinarian at some point in the near future if it continues. Having a video of it to show your veterinarian would be very helpful for them, in case he does not do it when he is being examined. They will be able to let you know more if there is any treatment needed or if this is something that you do not need to worry about. I hope that everything goes okay for him.

July 23, 2020

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Boxer Shepherd

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Sways Head From Side To Side Like A Blind Person

I administer her shots myself. Why does she away her head from side to side. She just started this a few days ago.

July 21, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Without seeing her, unfortunately, I don't have any way to know what might be causing this, whether it is a seizure, distemper, meningitis, or a neurologic problem. It would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible, as they will be able to examine her and see what might be going on. I hope that all goes well for her.

July 21, 2020

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Yo-yo

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Shih Tzu

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9 Years

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

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Head Tremors

My dog just started having these “head tremors” today, but they keep happening repeatedly. Once I start petting him he stops. But once I stop it happens again. He’s always been healthy and I don’t know if I should be worried or not. His shakes move in a “no” direction.

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Diesel

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Bulldog

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3 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Head Trembling

This is not the first time this happens to mu dog diesel. The first time we notcied it he hadnt eaten anything for a couple of days and we took him to the vet. The vet said he has appendicitis. He was on medication for 14 days and recovered. A couple of weeks later we noticed the head trembling again but he was eating fine and wasnt sad or anything. Today hes doing the head trembling again and im scared he might have appendicitis again but i really dont have the money to take him to the vet right now. He had chiken earlier today that i boiled because hes refusing to eat his dog food. Any advice? .

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Olive

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Cane Corso

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11 Months

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Head Tremor Side To Side

Hi I need advice on whether or not you can leave dogs alone while they have a head tremor ? As both my husband and I work. It’s only just started so need to know everything I can

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Lilly

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Boxer

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9 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Head Shaking

Lilly has been getting head tremors for many years. The vet never determined the cause. Lilly doesn’t seem to know it’s happening and they last about 5-20 minutes. She’s usually sleepy afterwards. A friend suggested removing any Febreze products from my home and the tremors seemed to stop immediately and were gone for quite some time. She only has about two per year now.

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Rosy

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Tibetan Spaniel

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4 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Head Shaking

We have a puppy Tibetan Spaniel who has headtremors. She does this from the moment she was in our home. She now is 4 month old and seems to get worse when she has some stress. My own vet tells me not to worry ,that it will go away when she gets older but i'm worried because we bought her for breeding. Can we still breed with her or better to do not? And will this go away when she is bit older? Kind regards .... owner of Rosy

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