Shaking His Head in Dogs

Why is my dog shaking his head?

What is Shaking His Head?

A canine who shakes his head more often than just after a bath or swim may have an underlying condition that is causing him to itch or feel pain. The reasons for the shaking can vary in severity; this behavior should always be evaluated and could be caused by:

  • Foreign body lodged inside the ear
  • Parasites
  • Excessive ear wax
  • Ear infection (bacterial or yeast)
  • Allergy
  • Polyps or growths

If your dog is shaking his head he should be seen by a veterinarian.  The head shaking could be a symptom of a serious condition which may lead to hearing loss.  Additionally, aggressive head shaking can cause blood vessels to break in the ear flap; the ear flap then gets swollen (aural hematomas).

Why Shaking His Head Occurs in Dogs

Foreign Body Lodged Inside the Ear

The dog may have something lodged in his ear such as a small twig or foxtail seed (wild grass). Foxtail seeds have sharp bristles, which are covered with barbs. They can cause a rupture in your dog’s eardrum. Other symptoms of a foreign object being lodged in your dog’s ear may include constantly scratching at the ears, head tilt and whining.


Your dog may be shaking his head due to parasites such as ticks, fleas or ear mites. Parasites can cause your dog a great deal of irritation and can also lead to a bacterial infection.

Excessive Ear Wax

Dogs that are stressed or have recurrent ear infections produce more ear wax. The buildup of wax in the ears can cause a fungal or bacterial infection. Also the excess ear wax can press against the eardrum and cause equilibrium problems.  

Ear Infection

Ear infections are more common in dogs with pendulous ears, such as the Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel and Basset Hound. Additional symptoms of an ear infection can include whining and pawing at the infected ear, smelly discharge, redness, swelling and itchiness.  Infections can be bacterial or fungal.


Dogs that have environmental or food allergies can develop ear inflammation. Allergies can cause inflammation in the intestines which then causes a bacterial and/or fungal overgrowth. The bacterial or fungal infection can then spread to the ears and to other parts of your dog’s body.

Polyps or Growths

Head shaking may be caused by the growths of polyps inside the ear canal. The growths attach to the lining of the ear.  Most polyps are caused by the wax producing glands (ceruminous gland adenomas) in the ear and are usually not cancerous.

What to do if your Dog is Shaking His Head

A dog that is shaking his head should be seen by a veterinarian without delay. Once at the clinic, the veterinarian will go over your dog’s medical history. He may recommend a complete blood count which can help determine if there is an infection (white blood cells will be elevated). The veterinarian will examine your dog’s ears with an otoscope, which is a medical instrument that has a light and magnifying lens. This medical instrument can help the veterinarian see the presence of ear wax, pus, a foreign object, polyps or inflammation.  If your dog is anxious or in a lot of pain, a sedative may be necessary to perform the examination. A foreign object can be removed using a pair of forceps. Your companion may be prescribed an antibiotic to clear up the infection and pain medication for relief of the symptoms. If the patient has excess ear wax the veterinarian will flush the dog’s ear out.

Ear mites will be treated with selamectin or moxidectin.  Flea and ticks are treated with anti-parasite medications.  Ear infections are usually treated with oral antibiotics, medicated ear drops and/or anti-fungal medications. If the veterinarian suspects allergies he may recommend an elimination diet. An elimination diet removes certain foods from the daily feeding regimen which may be causing allergies, then reintroduces the food items one at a time in order to identify an offending food. Dogs diagnosed with food or environmental allergies will need to have a change in diet and/ or allergy shots. 

If the veterinarian found polyps he will recommend surgery to remove them.  If the polyps are malignant, the veterinarian may also suggest chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Throughout the treatment and healing process, your dog may have to wear an Elizabethan collar which will help prevent him from scratching or injuring his ears.

Prevention of Shaking His Head

Foreign objects getting lodged in a dog’s ear may be prevented by not letting a dog run off leash in fields or areas with tall grass and plant overgrowth and by monitoring him during outdoor activities. Regular ear cleaning can help eliminate wax buildup; your veterinarian can do this for you or train you in the procedure. Care must always be taken when working in and around the ear area. Some parasites can be prevented by administering a monthly flea and tick preventative. A regular check of the condition of your dog’s ears is a good habit to get into.

Some food allergies can be prevented. It is best to feed your dog a high-quality dog food which does not have corn, wheat, soy, dyes and dairy products (common allergens).  Environmental allergens such as cigarette smoke, pesticides and pollutants should be avoided.

Cost of Shaking His Head

Ear mites may cost $250 to treat, although sometimes more than one application of the removal product is needed. An ear infection due to allergies can range from $200 to $3500 depending on severity of the condition, your pet’s response to treatment and whether treatment must be repeated on an ongoing basis.

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