Head Shaking In Pets—It May Be An Ear Thing


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Head Shaking In Pets—It May Be An Ear Thing

There are numerous reasons why pets may shake their heads. One of the most common reasons why dogs shake their heads is probably exactly what you’re thinking—the entire body shakes after getting wet like after taking a bath or taking a swim. However, continuous or regular head shaking in dogs or cats without a reason is not normal and may be due to an ear problem.

Why Do Dogs or Cats Shake Their Heads?

As mentioned, there are several reasons why animals may shake their heads, and the majority of them relate in one way or another to their ears.

  • Allergies
  • Ear infection (yeast or ear mites/bacteria)
  • Excessive amount of ear wax
  • Grass seed or other types of foreign bodies lodged in the ear canal
  • Fly bites to the ear tips
  • Polyps or masses in the ear canal
  • Immune-medicated disease

Do You Need to Be Concerned?

Yes, you need to be concerned. If ear issues are left untreated, permanent ear damage can result, which may include a ruptured eardrum or possibly even hearing loss. Issues like Aural Haematomas may develop due to aggressive or persistent head shaking. If there is a chronic inflammatory process like a bad infection, it can be incredibly painful. Think about when you have a really bad earache—you can understand the pain that your dog or cat is experiencing.

Hearing Is Important

When it comes to dogs, their ability to hear is the second most important sense that they have, with their first being their sense of smell. Therefore, it is vital to take the time to investigate why your pet is shaking their head and then treating the problem at hand to ensure that your pet has a good quality of life.

How to Determine the Problem

Because your pet cannot tell you what’s wrong, it can be hard to determine what exactly is wrong with your dog or cat. The ear canal of a cat or dog is L-shaped, and issues are typically hidden very deep within the canal and out of your sight. The ear tube and canal is narrow, and it is lined with an epithelium. Problems with the ear can result in the epithelium to swell up, reducing the size of the canal, and as a result, it makes it hard for discharge to leave the canal.

If you see your cat or dog shaking its head constantly, that is enough to warrant an investigation such as a check-up at the local veterinarian. However, here are some other signs that may indicate issues:

  • Ear scratching
  • Redness or swelling of the ear flap (pinna)
  • Foul odor or discharge coming directly from the ear
  • Tenderness or irritability when the ear is touched
  • Holding of the head in a strange position
  • Hearing loss

Make sure that you never use cotton buds or attempt to stick anything in your dog or cat’s ears unless a veterinarian has instructed you to do so.

What Are Your Next Steps?

First, you need to talk to a veterinarian who will examine your pet’s ear with a special instrument known as an otoscope. If an infection is detected, the veterinarian will take a swab from your pet’s ear in order to conduct a cytology, which consists of looking at a sample of the ear’s discharge under a microscope. This is an important process since it can help determine the organisms that are present in your pet’s ear canal and to what extent and help determine the most appropriate method of treatment. A cytology will be performed at subsequent checkups to assess if the infection is getting better or if further investigation is necessary.

Treating Problems with the Ear

There are many treatments that your veterinarian may prescribe to treat an ear problem, including the following:

  • Ear wash or flush
  • Topical ear drops or medication
  • Antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medication
  • Ear mite treatment
  • Anesthetic that cleans the ear canal
  • Dietary changes
  • Surgery (sometimes)

It is vital that you follow the directions that are provided by the veterinarian, and when advised, revisit the veterinarian’s office for a checkup.

Special Note for Owners of Cats

While head shaking tends to be more common with dogs, cats can have very similar issues. An assessment by a veterinarian is necessary to determine the exact cause and best course of treatment.

For more information, contact the professionals at Huntsville Veterinary Specialists & Emergency.