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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

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Shorkie Tzu

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Eight Months

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Unknown severity

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17 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Bobbing Of The Head

My dogs head is bobbing back and forth

Dec. 13, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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17 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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Pomeranian

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Five Months

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Unknown severity

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7 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Rocking Side To Side

My dog was sitting down when his head started rocking back and forth I thought he was cold so I wrapped him up but when his head is up it happens

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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7 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Some puppies do have a head tremor when they are young, and most grow out of it. If this continues, it would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian, and perhaps take a video of the behavior so that they can see it if he does not have the problem when they are looking at him.

Oct. 8, 2020

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Chiweenie

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Three Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Head Shaking And Vomiting

My puppy just had the above symptoms and my 7 year old husky/lab has had the same symptoms in the past. They do not eat the same food. The 7 year old has had 2 sets of antibiotics. There is no known poison within their reach. What could cause these symptoms in both dogs at different times

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. Puppies are very prone to parasites, infectious diseases, and intestinal infections. Different things can affect adult dogs. It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them.

Oct. 15, 2020

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Chihuahua

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Eight Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Tremor

My dog started having head tremors after taking trazodone. Is this an emergency?

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. Trazadone can be sedating, and that may have been what was causing the tremors in your dog. If he is still having problems, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them.

Oct. 18, 2020

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Husky

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Anxiety

My dog doesn’t want to get up . He’s been acting like this since five. when he gets up walks in circles and when he’s sitting he moves his neck around back and fourth. He also won’t eat.

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them.

Oct. 18, 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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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

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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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

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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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

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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