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DrBarchas.com is free resource for people with pets. Searchable articles are available on diseases, behavior, symptoms, and medical treatments for dogs and cats. Photo galleries contain submitted pictures of pets and people.

About Eric Barchas, D.V.M.

Eric Barchas, DVM is a veterinarian who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. His emphasis is on small animal medicine, emergency medicine, hospice and wellness. An avid traveler, he has studied lions in Botswana and salmon in southern Chile.

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Head Shaking in Cats and Dogs

Common Causes

Causes are listed in order from most common to least common. In dogs and cats, ear problems are by far the most common cause of head shaking.

  • Ear infections are the most common cause of head shaking in both species. Infected ears frequently are painful, produce pus or excessive wax, and may emit a foul odor.
  • Allergic reactions to fleas, pollen, or food can cause itching in the ears, leading to head shaking.
  • Foreign objects lodged in the ear will cause head shaking. Plugs of wax and pieces of plant matter, such as foxtails, are the most common foreign bodies in ears. Foreign objects frequently are located deep in the ear, requiring special instrumentation to locate them.
  • Ear mites can cause marked head shaking.
  • Trauma to the outer portion of the ear can cause irritation and head shaking.
  • Polyps, growths, and tumors in the ear are rare causes of head shaking.

Recommended Course of Action

Most problems that cause head shaking are unlikely to improve without intervention. Carefully inspect both ears. If no obvious source of the problem can be found and corrected, schedule a veterinary examination.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.