Infection or irritation of ear is the most frequently reported ailment in dogs and perhaps the most common cause of visit at the veterinarian’s office. Dogs have very sensitive hearing apparatus and even minor issues (like ear pain, itching or irritation) can make them very irritable. One of the commonest manifestations of this irritation is head shaking in dogs.
Dog head shaking that is transient or trivial is very normal; however, if your dog keeps shaking head for a longer period of time then it should raise concerns. Unfortunately, most cases of dog shaking head are ignored or overlooked for a longer period of time, until a cause is ascertained, but a more practical approach is to carefully analyze the environmental and lifestyle factors to identify a likely cause.
What Causes Dog Shaking Head?
1. Grass Seed or Foreign Body
Grass seeds, as the name suggests are commonly found near countryside. The seeds alone or in combination with other foreign materials/ objects may lodge into the ear canal of your dog and cause pain and irritation; leading to violent dog head shaking .These grass seeds inside the ear canal can be easily observed by the veterinarian through an otoscope.
What to do? Check to see if these foreign objects are present and take measures immediately.
2. Yeast and Fungal Infections
The surface of ear canals is soft and moist in nature and the area where moisture is present promotes the accumulation and growth of different type of bacteria and fungal agents. These infections are common in dogs with large floppy ears such as Spaniels (the lid covering the ear canal promotes the moisture saturation inside the ear, leading to increased growth of different infections).
Signs and Symptoms of an Ear Infection
Following are frequently reported signs and symptoms that are usually accompanied with dog head shaking:
- Dog scratching the ear
- Discharge from ear which is usually brown or yellow in color
- Swelling and redness
- Foul odor from ear
- Appearance or crust formation on the ear surface
- Hair loss on ear surface
- Disturbed eye movements
- Head tilting
- Walking in a circular movement
What to do? Generally the infection is assessed by the veterinarian with the help of simple magnifying cone (to visualize the ear canal and ear drum). After locating the site and source of infection, the veterinarian may remove the inciting element via professional cleaning treatment; he may also prescribe some oral or local medications.
Here an expert explains more on ear infection in dogs and how you can treat it:
3. Skin Allergy
Skin allergy if present in ear canal is diagnosed with the help of swabs, scrapes and biopsy samples which are then sent to laboratory for analysis.
What to do? The treatment for skin allergy includes careful diet modification to low allergy ingredients, vaccines, use of mild shampoos, immunosuppressant medicines as well as antibiotics.
Parasitic infections in dogs most commonly includes ticks (scientific name: Ixodes varieties) and ear mites (scientific name: Otodectes cynotis). The ear mites are observed with the help of a microscope after scrapping the skin while the ticks are usually present over the ear surface and can be easily seen through the naked eyes.
What to do? Anti-parasitic medications are given as a treatment.
5. Ear Polyps
Polyps are the finger like projections that starts to grow in the ear canal. These polyps are variable in size. Generally the polyps are not cancerous in nature but they should be analyzed by the laboratory for prompt diagnosis. Ear polyps are usually diagnosed by an otoscope. Asymptomatic polyps that are not causing any irritation or infection are considered normal. What to do? Consultation a veterinarian if any irritation appear in the ear polyp (as marked by dog shaking head and other disturbing behaviors).
Traumatic conditions may elicit a feeling of pain and discomfort in the head or ear canal after an acute injury. Dog shaking head may be the first sign of trauma and may resolve spontaneously if the injury is not serious. However, if the shaking persists then it indicated that the trauma has caused some serious damage inside the ear or head.
What to do? The ideal course of action involves cleaning of the wound after trauma and treatment through appropriate medications.
7. Other Causes
Some other causes include excessive ear wax and immune mediated diseases. Chemicals, toxins or medications can damage the nervous system of the dog and may present as neurological symptoms. Besides dog shaking head, some may even cause permanent blindness.
It is recommended not to apply a self-treatment plan such as cleaning or poking the ear of dog with a foreign substance. Make sure to consult a veterinarian first.
How to Prevent Ear Problems like Ear Infection in Dogs
- Take your dog for regular checkups
- Keep a check on your dog if there is any discharge or redness present (especially in the setting of dog shaking head scenarios)
- Clean the outer surface of the ear by using a cotton pad dipped in a suitable solution as recommended by the veterinarian
- Try to keep the ear dry and clean after swimming/ bath
- The excessive hairs present on the outer surface of the ear must be removed, this can be done by the groomer or veterinarian