Managing Head Shaking Symptoms in Pets

Head shaking is a common symptom of ear inflammation which could be caused by allergies or an ear infection Head shaking is a very common concern I receive from pet owners with various size pets. In many cases, the cause of this historical complaint is due to some sort of underlying ear inflammation and/or allergy.  Allergies are most commonly due to inhalant/contact allergens such as molds, grasses, trees, dander, house dust, pollen, as well as possible food allergies.

Many times underlying allergies may lead to secondary bacterial and/or yeast infections of the ears, which often result in excessive wax or discharge and thus secondary head shaking.  In younger or outdoor pets, ear mites may be an underlying cause of head shaking, and these need to be ruled out by veterinary exam and/or evaluation of discharge under the microscope.

To help treat the symptoms of head shaking in your dog or cat, I recommend antihistamines such as Benadryl (dose of one mg per pound twice daily) and using cleaning agents like Zymox Otic which may help until a definitive diagnosis can be made and long term treatment plan instituted with your pet’s veterinarian.

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31 Comments

  1. I have a half dachsand, and yorkie, we have been having a problem with her. She is 11 years old, and for the past couple of years, she would start to scratch and the fur would fall out and the skin would turn black and rough. she was put on prednazone but it just seem to make her fat. She has been on it three times. Not long after she stop taking it, it started all over again. I have a hard time bathing her or giving her meds. she runs away from me, under the bed, and i can’t get her.

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMay 23, 2013 at 11:05 pm · Reply

      Try treating with topical shampoo therapy a few times weekly with product like malaseb shampoo from 1800petmeds. Also consider adding fatty acids to meals like be well from 1800petmeds and low carb, low grain diet like wysong epigen diet.

  2. constant ear scratching. (5 Lhsapoos)

  3. I was hospitalized and my husband told me our cat’s ear flap is swollen. I quickly left the hosp. and came home. Our cat is shaking his head, meowing, spending all his time on or under the bed. I am so stressed, we love our lil baby, but I have to go back to the hosp and my husband is home from a work injury. Is there anything we can do to help him until next week when I will be released from the hosp and take him to the vet? Please help. Iwas told his ear or whatever is in it can rupture if we wait ….

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianAugust 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm · Reply

      This is ear hematoma which is broken blood vessel in ear. Wont rupture. Best to have surgical drainage when it is possible. No medical treatment at home is effective.

  4. I took my dog to pet smart grooming last Saturday, he’s being head shaking, since I pick him up at the gooming.

  5. Well, you are quite wrong on this diagnostic, I said that he did not shake his head before I took him to the grooming, inside Pet Smart, he don’t have an ear infection, I think that what they use to bath him, gave him allergies, I gave him twice, two baby Benadryl pill, and he is fine now.

  6. Dr Dym,
    I have been treating two of my dogs with the zymox otic with hydrocortisone for 5 days. The wax buildup is gone and the head shaking has ceased. One of my dogs still has one ear that, when wiped, has some blood in it. I had her examined for this a couple of months ago. They just flushed her ear and packed it with what I think is an antibiotic gel. I thought that they did a swab, but when I contacted the vet, apparently this was not done. I did treat her for ear mites a couple of weeks ago just in case this was the cause. It is difficult to clean her ears, bully breed. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianNovember 23, 2013 at 6:47 pm · Reply

      Continue zymox otic another 5 to 7 days. If no help or it worsens, consider recheck vet exam as may need culture of ear discharge in case resistant bacteria. I doubt it is ear mites in adult dog. I was recently introduced to natural therapies called gemmotherapies which you can look up on line. There are a few that are great for chronic ear infections i.e Rowan tree, White Currant, and Common Juniper. Check them out.

  7. MY DOG TAZ HAVE A CHRONIC EAR INFECTION – MY PROBLEM IS THAT I DON’T GET PAID UNTIL 12/13/13 – WHAT CAN I USE UNTIL I GET PAID – I CAN SMELL HIS EAR WHEN I COME HOME – I HAVE PURCHASED ZYMOX OTIC ENZYMATIC AND WILL PURCHASE THIS PRODUCT AGAIN ON FRIDAY BUT IN THE MEANTIME WHAT I USE – HELP

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 11, 2013 at 1:37 am · Reply

      Try 50-50 mixture of white vinegar and water and flush ear canals daily as needed until vet exam.

  8. My 2 year old male manx cat began refusing his regular food 3 days ago, he’ll eat a little bit of his old food, but still not his typical appetite. He’s normally very active, and aloof, but has become clingy. He even sat on my boyfriends lap today and he’s never done that before. We both have the flu, I thought maybe he was comforting bf.

    A little while ago I stroked his head and his head wobbled as if he had tremors, the behavior repeated when I touched his forehead again. It may be weakness from hunger, but he ate half his food a few hours ago. The appetite and tremor issue has me stumped.

    Thank you for any help you can share.

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 24, 2013 at 5:28 pm · Reply

      I would have vet exam to make sure no health issues that need to be addressed. You could try a homeopathic remedy called Pulsatilla in 30c potency from health food store 1 pellot twice daily for 2 days to see if can help him feel more like himself and regain his appetite.

  9. I have a mini pooddle who’s been scratching his ear like crazy and he is been shaking his head a lot lately. I was told at the pet store to give him some benadryl but they couldnt tell me how much to give him untill i take him to the vet on monday, i was reading that it goes by the pounds and to give him 1 mg for each pound he weights but my problem now is that i bought the benadryl in the liquid form and i dont know how much is 1 mg in tspn or ml. Can you help me to find out how much to give him in tsps?

  10. Thank you so much, biscuit and i appreciate it.

  11. my corgi was shaking his head an licking his paw n scratching his ear with it continuously. it looked red n wet looking inside. so I bought the ZYMOX OTIC HC 1.0% Enzymatic solution. an I filled lukes ear with it n rubbed his ear to get it down in their. and a hour later he wasn’t shaking his head or scratching at his ear. this med. really helped with his ear.

  12. My cat had an ear recheck and cleaning earlier today. He had a serious ear infection last month. He’s 14, DSH. He slept and hid after the vet. Now his ear is pointing downward, it feels hot, looks red, and he’s crying and shaking his head constantly. He also had a bath today. I don’t know in which order these tasks were performed at the veterinary office. What do you think is going on? I have some leftover steroidal ointment from last month. Should I use it? My cat is my world, I don’t want (and can’t afford) to take him to the vet again tomorrow. He’s been through so much. Please help!

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm · Reply

      HI STephanie…. Cant advise on this one at home, given age and health status. Really need brief recheck exam at vet to decide on treatment.

  13. Hello, my 10 year old male cat started shaking his head frequently and his ears have been lying flat to the sides of his head for a little less than 36 hours. I see no discharge in his ears that would indicate mites. My intuition is allergies but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen this in him and I have no idea what he would have come in contact with in our small apartment. (We have one other cat, a 12 year old female, and she seems fine.) He also have some crusty brownish discharge coming from his eyes. He is still eating and drinking normally but seems a bit annoyed by his current condition so isn’t as social as usual. The vet has been closed for the weekend so I haven’t been able to get him in yet. Any advice is much appreciated.

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 22, 2014 at 12:31 am · Reply

      Best to see vet ASAP for proper diagnosis and treatment plan in cat this age. You could try zymox otic HC from 1800petmeds but not sure that will help

  14. Hi,

    My dog is 3 years old. He started with head shaking last year. Our vet suggested us to take distemper test which was negative. He suggests that he might be having seizures and we are giving him a dose of Prolepsy. However, I do not think that he has any seizure problem, because, the head shake comes randomly and just last for 2-3 days. I read your post and I think he has some kind of allergy, but the cause is not known. Furthermore when his head shakes happens he starts salivating and tries to bite its tail / groin region.

    I am not understanding the cause. Any help / suggestion will be really appreciated. Thanks in Advance.

    Regards,

    Hitesh

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianOctober 9, 2014 at 3:55 am · Reply

      It would seem that a competent local vet should be able to distinguish between allergy symptoms and seizure symptoms. If you are in doubt, I would have a second opinion from another local vet in your area, or you should video the symptoms you have observed to show to you your local vet, so that way he or she can make determination whether behavior you see is allergic or seizure related.

  15. We have a 7 yr old black lab. 95lbs. He has been to the vet several xs for ear problems. He shakes his head, whines, runs around the house all crazy, licks his feet & wipes his ears, rubs his ears on the furniture so hard he moves our recliners & love seat. The vet gave us medicated drops, cleaning drops, oral meds & put some kind of packing stuff in each ear that eventually comes out. We just keep taking him back & the ear problems do not go away. We even switched to grain free food & $18 a bag Salmon treats. All that did was make his stool like water & he was miserable. We switched his food & the stool problem went away but we can’t fix his ears. Please help!!!!!

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianNovember 4, 2014 at 2:34 pm · Reply

      I would see a veterinary dermatologist as most labs with chronic ear issues usually have some sort of underlying inhalent/contact allergies which is called atopy. Unless these underlying allergies addressed, the problem will recur. Blood and/or skin testing many be an option to identify these allergens. There are drugs like apoquel and atopica which also may help treat underlying allergies. A hydrolyzed protein diet may help such as Royal Canine HP diet.

  16. My dog has ear mites it is 2:46 in the morning. I have medicine from the vet, but she told us to clean it out first.
    We have no stores that are open to pick up anything. Is
    there anything I can use to clean the ears first?

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 18, 2015 at 12:37 pm · Reply

      A 50-50 mixture of white vinegar and water is fine to use in the ears for cleansing.

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