Jerking His Head in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog jerking his head?

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog jerking his head?

What is Jerking His Head?

You may notice your dog jerking their head every once in a while. When the behavior becomes more pronounced or occurs more often, you should have your dog checked out by your veterinarian. Sometimes your dog is jerking his head because he is startled or he is hand shy and fearful. In other cases, your dog could be suffering from a seizure, neck problems or even vision problems. 

When you first notice your dog jerking their head, take note of what was happening just before the jerking began. You need to write down everything you have observed including what activity your dog was engaged in, if there were any environmental changes and if there were any strangers, small children or other animals near. Your veterinarian will need this information when they examine your dog.

Possible causes of your dog jerking his head include:

  • Neurological disorders
  • Muscle contraction disease
  • Fear
  • Toothache
  • Vision problems
  • Neck problems

Why Jerking His Head Occurs in Dogs

Neurological Disorders

If your dog is diagnosed with a neurological disorder most likely it will be seizures when they jerk their head. Seizures are involuntary and will cause either increased or decreased muscle activity including jerking their head. After your dog’s seizure, they will be disoriented and confused. They may also have problems with their vision for up to 12 hours.

Muscle Contraction Disease (myoclonus)

This is a rare seizure disorder that is characterized by sudden jerking motions, especially the head. Your dog does remain conscious during the seizure. Your veterinarian will have to diagnose muscle contraction disease and provide specialized medications for the disorder.

Fear

If your dog has suffered from abuse or they are naturally shy, you may notice them jerk their head away when you reach for their head. This is a behavioral problem and it will not require medication. You may be able to work with a canine behaviorist to alleviate your dog’s fear. Patience and understanding are key.

Toothache

A simple toothache can cause your dog to jerk their head. Just like in humans, a toothache in a dog is painful and will cause them to act strangely. In some cases, medications may help with the toothache. Otherwise the affected tooth will need to be extracted. 

Vision Problems

Dogs that are experiencing vision problems may exhibit signs of jerking their head. Some dogs may only see shadows or blurred images causing them to startle or react when the shadows or blurred images move. 

Neck Problems

Stiff muscles in the neck can cause your dog to jerk his head in involuntary movements. Some neck problems are neurological. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose the problem with your dog’s neck and begin treatments.

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What to do if your Dog is Jerking His Head

It is always best to have your veterinarian check your dog out when you notice they are jerking their head. When you take your dog in for your veterinarian appointment be sure to bring with you any notes that you took regarding what occurs before and after the head jerking and any changes to the environment or diet.

After a full physical examination along with a complete blood count, biochemistry panel, urinalysis,and fecal exam, the veterinarian will evaluate the results of the diagnostic testing to determine the cause. Once a diagnosis has been made, your veterinarian will discuss with you the treatment options available. 

Dogs that are diagnosed with neurological disorders are usually able to be treated with medications to minimize the effects of the disorder. Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully to ensure that your dog is receiving the appropriate treatment.

Toothaches, depending on the severity of the tooth problem, will be treated with pain management medications, antibiotics, dental cleaning and possible tooth extraction. 

Some dogs diagnosed with vision problems will not recover their vision, but you can create an environment where they feel safe and adjust your handling techniques so they are able to acknowledge your presence before you reach for them.

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Prevention of Jerking His Head

It can be difficult to prevent neurological problems in your dog, especially if they are inherited. Neurological problems from a trauma or illness can also be hard to prevent. Have your dog’s eyes checked by a canine ophthalmologist every few years if needed to ensure that there are no significant changes to their vision. Also, clean your dog’s teeth regularly. If your dog is not cooperative, you will need to have your veterinarian clean your dog’s teeth when calculus has built up.

Fear can be prevented by providing a positive atmosphere and being a confident leader for your dog. A canine behaviorist can work with you and your dog to overcome any fear from past experiences that may be causing your dog to be head shy and jerking their head away from your hand.

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Cost of Jerking His Head

Depending on what is causing your dog to jerk his head, the costs will vary. Treatment for a dog suffering from a neurological disorder can range in cost from $500 to $6500. Cavities and tooth extractions can cost between $500 and $2000. Vision problems can be diagnosed and treated from $250 to $2500.

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Jerking His Head Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Standard Poodle

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Six Years

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5 found helpful

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5 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Slight Head Jerking

My dog started out two days ago doing a lot of licking. Yesterday I started to notice that he has a slight jerk to his head. if you go to pet him from the right side he's fine. But if you reach around and pet him from the left side he ducks like he's going to be hit or something.

July 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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5 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. There may be something going on with his back or neck that is painful or bothering him, from your description. There may be a problem with his ear. Without seeing him, it is unfortunately, difficult to say what might be happening. Since this seems like a strange behavior for him, it would probably be best to have him seen by a veterinarian. They can examine him, see what might be going on, and get treatment for him so that he feels better. I hope that all goes well for him.

July 27, 2020

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Chihuahua

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Twelve Months

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3 found helpful

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3 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Threw Up, Head Jerks, And Problem Controlling Her Back Legs

I think my dog had a seizure and she keeps jerking her head

July 24, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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3 Recommendations

Hello- I would recommend taking your dog to the veterinarian immediately. Seizures can be very serious and there can be multiple underlying causes. If your veterinarian is closed I would head to the local veterinary ER. They can give her medication to help stop the seizure and perform diagnostics to help identify the cause. I hope she feels better soon.

July 24, 2020

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