So Your Dog keeps Shaking his Head? Here’s Why!

Sick Dog with Ear Flopped Out on Ground

Have you noticed that your dog is shaking it’s head more than normal?

This is a common reaction to an irritant that will most likely be present in your canine’s ear(s). Without the use of fingers to massage away the offender, there is really not much else your poor pooch can do to relieve the itch or pain.

However, not all head shaking is created equally. In fact, some causes can be more severe than others.

The most common problem associated with the ears of a canine is called otitis externa, or inflammation of the outer ear canal. Let’s explore the common causes of otitis externa that may be just the culprit causing all that head shaking in your canine.

Allergies: Just like in people, allergies in dogs are commonly caused by food or by inhaling or touching something the dog’s immunity system views as “dangerous.”  According to Pet, when this happens the dog may not only show signs of itchy, red ears but also:

  • chewing on feet
  • rubbing face on carpet
  • scratching the entire body
  • chronic ear infections
  • hair loss
  • in severe cases, mutilated skin (from excessive chewing and scratching)

If you think your dog may be allergic to something, be sure to make an appointment with your veterinarian to get to the bottom of it.

Parasites: Another reason a dog will shake its head is due to a common species of mite—tiny eight-legged critters that feed off of the wax and oils in your dog’s ear—called, Otodectes cynotis, or simply put, the ear mite.

Ear Mites in Dogs Ear May Be Causing Head Shaking

These nasty little pests can take over your dog’s inner and outer ear canal, making him miserable with the itching and irritation they bring. Although, each individual mite only has a three-week lifespan, their offspring will continue to reproduce in your canine’s ears if left untreated.

According to WebMD, the signs of ear mites in your dog are:

  • Excessive scratching and rubbing of ears
  • Head shaking
  • Black or brown waxy secretion
  • Strong odor
  • Inflammation
  • Obstruction of ear canal with coffee ground-like discharge

If you believe your dog may be suffering from ear mites, be sure to take him to the vet to get the necessary medications to clear this condition up. If left untreated, the mites can worsen and will also be passed on to other canines and felines.

Ear Infections: Ear infections are common in dogs and can be caused by moisture that has been trapped in the ear canal from the result of bathing, swimming or grooming. When this happens microorganisms will begin to grow in the form of yeast or bacteria and will soon have your pup shaking its head. Other symptoms of an ear infection also include:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • heat
  • abnormal odor

It’s important to seek veterinary care when your pup has an ear infection. If left untreated your dog may suffer long term effects such as deafness.

Dog Laying it's Head Down on the Ground

Foreign Matter: When your pet runs outside through the tall grass, wooded areas or even in ponds or dog parks, there’s alway a chance he or she will pick up some foreign matter or debris. This can include bits of leaves, tiny shard of twigs or just dirt in general. Sometimes this matter can find its way into your dog’s ear canals and over time (with continuous scratching) can turn into an ear infection.

Be sure to check your pup’s ears after rigorous rolling or play outside to nab “nature’s stickies” before they pose a problem to your pooch.

Imbalance in Hormones: According to Animal Wellness, a hormone imbalance is another cause of head shaking in dogs. This can include a problem with the thyroid gland, the pancreas (increase/decrease in insulin) or by the increase or decrease in testosterone or estrogen. Other symptoms of an imbalance in hormones include:

  • soft, or dry brittle fur
  • itching
  • darkening of the skin
  • blackheads on the skin
  • abnormal skin
  • secondary bacterial infection
  • inflammation of the outer ear with wax build-up
  • wetting the floor

If you think your pet may be suffering from a hormone imbalance be sure to bring up your concerns to your dog’s doctor, so the proper tests may be administered and a treatment put into place.

The “Perfect” Ear-vironment: You may be wondering why your dog’s ears are indirectly affected when it has other health issues. This is simply do to the fact that the ear is a perfect ear-vironment for bacteria growth — it is warm, dark, moist and enclosed—bacteria and yeast could not ask for a better environment to live in!

In addition, those canines with heavy, floppy ears such as Cocker Spaniels, may endure more ear problems due to the buildup of excess moisture in their ears.

Springer Spaniel with Ear Mites

Ear Discharge in Dogs: To help keep your dog’s ear in good health, they should be checked weekly and kept clean. A slight amount of ear wax is to be expected, but if your dog has floppy ears, spends a great deal of time in the water, or has a history of ear problems, than routine checking/cleaning (up to four times a week) is highly recommended.

According to the normal amount of earwax in dogs is;

  • 1/8 teaspoon for small dogs
  • 1/4 teaspoon for medium-sized dogs
  • 1/2 teaspoon for large-breed dogs

Anything more than this and you may have a problem brewing, seek a veterinarian’s advice for possible problems and cures.

What types of discharge can my dog’s ears experience?

Normal ear wax in canines can vary from slightly yellowish in color to tan; however with dirt and debris mixed in it may be a bit darker in color. Other forms of discharge in the ears of a dog include;

  • Black and granular discharge (like coffee grounds) usually means ear mites
  • Yellow to green, pasty, and smelly discharge usually means a bacterial ear infection.
  • Brown to dark brown discharge with a distinct, pungent, “fermenting” odor usually means a fungal ear infection.
  • A mixture of all of the above means you should be seeking a veterinarian

You don’t want to ignore your dog when it is constantly shaking its head.

Check its ears for signs of disease, mites or trauma then act accordingly to solve the problem and get your pooch back to feeling happy and healthy.

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