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If your dog suddenly begins shaking its head, you may wonder why and what you should do about it. In this post, our veterinary team shares the causes of excessive head shaking in dogs and when to bring them to our Halifax emergency and specialty animal hospital.

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Common Reasons Behind Head Shaking in Dogs

While certain canine behaviours are perfectly normal when seen occasionally, they can suddenly become more concerning when they occur frequently. Head shaking is one such behaviour. So when does it indicate an issue?

First, it is important to know why a dog is shaking their head. Head shaking is a simple way for your pup to get something out of their ear that shouldn't be there. While this is an easy solution for simple problems like water or grass in the ear, continued head shaking indicates that the irritation is ongoing and needs to be addressed.

If your dog consistently shakes their head for a day or so or begins to show other concerning symptoms, like blood in their ears, you should schedule a visit to your primary care veterinarian or bring them to our emergency animal hospital in Halifax.

Ear Infections (Bacterial or Yeast)

Ear infections are a common medical issue behind persistent head shaking in dogs. When your dog experiences an infection, their ears become extremely itchy and produce a lot of discharge, causing them to shake their head frequently. An infection is likely if you look in your dog's ears and see redness, swelling, or discharge.

These infections can affect the ear's outer and deep inner parts, so the signs may not always be visible. Therefore, an examination and diagnostics are critical to allow for appropriate action.


Your dog may have food or environmental allergies (pollen, mould spores, dust, mites, etc.). With these types of allergies, your dog may experience itchy skin and ears, hair loss, recurrent infections, shaking their head, chewing on the feet, and rubbing at the face.

To help diagnose a food allergy, your veterinarian may recommend a bland diet containing a different protein than your dog usually eats. This is the only food your dog will be allowed to eat for a month or two. If your dog has a food allergy, their symptoms will significantly improve or disappear entirely during that time.

Your veterinarian may also recommend intradermal (administered into the skin) or blood testing to identify allergens.

Water in Their Ears

If your dog gets water in their ears, they may shake their head to get it out. You should avoid spraying or dumping water directly on your dog’s head during a bath to prevent this. You can bathe them from the neck down before using a damp washcloth to wipe down their head, face and neck.

Serious Medical Conditions Behind Head Shaking

If you've considered other possibilities and are still left wondering, "My dog keeps shaking his head – why?", this may be because a serious medical condition is causing your dog to shake their head excessively. These potential conditions can include foreign objects lodged in the ear canal, inflammatory diseases, or even neurologic disorders (like seizures).

Diagnosing head shaking in dogs is important to treat the discomfort and help prevent serious complications. With constant head shaking, your dog risks developing a hematoma (blood blister). These need to be treated by a veterinarian, usually with surgery

What to Do If Your Dog Keeps Shaking Its Head

If your dog shakes its head once or twice and stops, there is probably nothing to worry about. However, if your dog shakes their head frequently and vigorously, you should schedule an examination with your primary care veterinarian.

When is head shaking an emergency?

One of the common complications of many of these conditions is hearing loss. If your dog appears to have any issues with their ears, you should seek veterinary care immediately. Head shaking that is associated with other symptoms such as ataxia (loss of muscle control) or seizures or when related to trauma requires immediate veterinary attention.

If it is outside of regular office hours for your primary care veterinarian, the team at our emergency and specialty veterinary hospital is here to help.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog shaking their head excessively? Contact our emergency veterinarians anytime, day or night. We proudly serve pet owners from Halifax, including Clayton Park and Spryfield neighbourhoods.

Why won't my dog stop shaking his head?

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