A moderate amount of head shaking is normal for your dog, right after waking up or if you accidentally mist him with the garden hose. But constant head shaking indicates an ear problem. The head shaking could be caused by a few different issues, but have the vet take a look instead of mining around in your pet's ears yourself. It's always best to consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
Sometimes foreign objects can get lodged in Dobie's ears. Dry seed pods from grass or weeds are common irritants found in dogs' ears. The blockage could even be from ear wax that Dobie's own body produces. You may be tempted to clean out Dobie's ears and save you both the trip to the vet, but it's easy to push something like a plug of wax or a grass seed further down into his ear canal, causing injury and pain for your dog.
Head shaking can be a symptom of an ear infection. Some dog breeds, like cocker spaniels and shar-peis, have larger earwax glands than others. This condition causes them to produce excessive wax, which can be a breeding ground for bacteria, especially in the warm environment of the ear. In addition to head shaking, symptoms of an ear infection include redness or swelling of the inner ear and an unpleasant odor that indicates the presence of yeast.
Maybe Dobie is shaking his head to let you know mites have taken up residence in his ears. If little bugs have invaded your dog's ears, a close examination of the outer ear and the visible part of the inner ear will reveal a fine dark substance that looks like coffee grounds. Dobie could even spread the mites to other animals if he shakes his head vigorously enough to dislodge any of them, and another dog shaking her head could be how your pooch contracted them in the first place. If your dog is shaking his head excessively, scratching his ears, has a fine, dark residue in and around his ears and holds his head sideways, ear mites are the likely culprits.
An extremely serious condition that counts head shaking as one of its symptoms is distemper. It's a virus that affects the brain as well as cells in the skin and mucous membranes of the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Head shaking is one of the signs that your dog has reached the second stage of the disease, so don't ignore the first-stage symptoms like fever, listlessness, loss of appetite and clear or yellowish eye and nasal discharge. The prognosis is better if your dog is treated before he shows signs like drooling, head shaking and possible seizures.
By Elle Di Jensen
Chihuahuas; Amy Fernandez
VeterinaryPartner.com: Now Ear This
North Carolina State University: Ear Mites
Web MD: Distemper in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments
Chihuahuas; D. Caroline Coile
Vet Street: Why Does My Dog Shake His Head All of the Time?
About the Author
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.