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Dog’s Head Shakes and Ears Itch: Should You Worry?

It's not uncommon for dogs to occasionally shake their heads or scratch their ears.

Yet, if your Fluffy Friend does it excessively, it could be an underlying issue with their ears or skin.

Dogs' ear itching and head shaking are obvious signs of an ear infection, ear mites, allergies, or something stuck in the ear canal.

Food and environmental allergies can cause itchy ears and lead to excessive head shaking in dogs.

Hypothyroidism can also be a factor.

Today, we'll explore the following (click the links below to go to that specific section):

dogs ear itching and head shaking

Common Causes of Head Shaking in Dogs

dogs ear itching and head shaking

Ear Infections (Bacterial or Yeast)

An ear infection is one of the most common reasons for dogs to shake their heads excessively and scratch their ears.

Bacterial or fungal (yeast) overgrowth can cause ear infections.

This can lead to inflammation, itchiness, and discomfort within the ear canal.

Symptoms of an ear infection in dogs may include:

  • Redness and swelling of the ear canal
  • Brown, yellow, or bloody discharge
  • Foul odour
  • Excessive head shaking or tilting
  • Scratching or rubbing at the affected ear(s)
  • Loss of balance or unusual eye movements

Certain breeds with floppy ears or hairy inner ear canals are more prone to developing ear infections due to the shape and structure of their ears.

Some of these breeds are Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Retrievers, Poodles, and Schnauzers.

Dogs with underlying conditions like allergies or hypothyroidism are also at higher risk.

Water in the Ears

Another common cause of head shaking in dogs is trapped water or moisture in the ear canal.

This can occur after bathing, swimming, or exposure to humid environments.

The moisture creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and yeast, possibly leading to ear conditions.

To prevent water-related ear issues, it's recommended to use cotton balls or an ear band to protect your dog's ears during bathing or swimming.

Also, drying the outer ear and using a drying solution or ear cleaner after water exposure can help remove excess moisture.

Allergies and Itchy Ears

Environmental allergies (pollen, mould spores, dust mites, or food), can trigger head shaking and ear scratching in dogs.

Allergic reactions can cause inflammation and itchiness in the skin and ears, leading to discomfort and the urge to shake or scratch.

Symptoms of allergies in dogs may include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Hair loss
  • Recurrent skin and ear infections
  • Scratching at the ears
  • Head shaking
  • Chewing on the feet
  • Rubbing at the face

If you suspect allergies, identifying and removing the allergen from the environment or diet is the first step.

Veterinary consultation may be necessary for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Your vet could involve oral medication like antihistamines, corticosteroids, or other allergy medications.

Related: A Guide on How to Find Fleas on Dogs

Serious Problems

dogs ear itching and head shaking

Some serious underlying conditions may also cause these symptoms in dogs.

It's crucial to identify and address these underlying issues.

In this way, you can prevent further discomfort and potential complications.

Foreign Objects in the Ear Canal

Does your dog keep shaking their head and scratching at their ears after coming inside from outdoors?

It's possible that foreign bodies, such as a bug, burr, or grass, have become lodged in the ear canal.

This can cause extreme discomfort and lead to excessive head shaking and scratching.

In some cases, the dog may shake their head with such force that the cartilage of the ear flaps fractures.

This causes bleeding and the formation of aural hematomas (large, squishy lumps between the cartilage and skin of the ear).

If you think there's a foreign object, seek veterinary help.

They have the tools and expertise to safely remove the object and prevent further complications, such as ear infections.

Inflammatory Diseases

Chronic or recurrent ear infections may be a sign of an underlying inflammatory disease or condition.

The ear canal is a tubular structure that carries sound to the eardrum.

If this canal is inflamed, it can lead to discomfort, head shaking, and scratching.

The vet might recommend biopsies or X-rays.

These tests can help the root cause of the inflammation, such as allergies, ringworm, or tumours.

It's important to address the condition to resolve the ear issues and provide long-term relief.

Neurological Disorders

In some cases, excessive head shaking or tremors may be due to neurological disorders.

The conditions below can all lead to involuntary head movements that may be mistaken for head shaking:

  • idiopathic head tremors (head bobbing or shaking with no known cause)
  • injuries or trauma to the brain
  • central nervous system disorders, or
  • exposure to toxins

These neurological disorders often have no cure.

They need a proper diagnosis by a veterinary neurologist to rule out other potential causes.

While not dangerous, these head tremors can be alarming for pet owners.

Check if your dog develops ear pain, lethargy, or foul-smelling ear discharge.

Besides head shaking, these could be signs of a serious infection or other underlying condition.

Related: Dog Keeps Shaking Their Head: What To Do

Diagnosing and Treating Head Shaking

dogs ear itching and head shaking

Consulting a Veterinarian

If your dog is shaking their head or scratching their ears, consult a vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Excessive head shaking can cause various underlying issues.

This could be ear infections, allergies, foreign objects in the ear canal, or neurological disorders.

During the veterinary visit, the vet will inspect your dog's ears using an otoscope to inspect the ear canal and eardrum.

They may also take a swab of any discharge or debris for microscopic examination.

This analysis helps determine the cause of the ear irritation and guides the appropriate treatment plan.

In some cases, your vet may recommend more diagnostic tests, such as radiographs or a neurological evaluation.

This helps rule out more serious conditions like middle ear infections or growths.

If your dog's head tilts or has balance issues, they may need more tests.

Potential Treatments and Management

The treatment for your dog's head shaking and ear issues will depend on the underlying cause identified by your veterinarian.

Here are some potential treatment options:

  1. Ear Mite Treatment:

If there are ear mites, your vet may prescribe topical or oral medications to remove the parasites. Spot-on flea treatments can also help prevent and treat ear mite infestations.

  1. Antibiotics and Anti-inflammatory Medications:

For bacterial or yeast infections, your vet may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications. These are often in combination with anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and discomfort.

  1. Ear Cleaning and Flushing:

If there is excessive debris or foreign objects in the ear canal, your vet may need to do ear cleaning or flushing under sedation.

  1. Allergy Management:

Your vet may recommend antihistamines, corticosteroids, or immunotherapy treatments to manage allergic reactions. These medications can also reduce inflammation.

  1. Surgery:

For severe cases of ear hematomas or recurring infections, surgical intervention may be necessary.

  1. Preventive Measures:

To prevent future ear issues, you need to use proper ear-cleaning techniques. Your dog should also use ear protection during water activities.

It's essential to follow your veterinarian's instructions carefully. Go to the recommended follow-up appointments.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting Your First Puppy

Go back to the top

dogs ear itching and head shaking


In summary, excessive head shaking and ear scratching can state various underlying issues.

This may be minor irritants like ear infections or allergies.

This may also show serious conditions like neurological disorders or inflammatory diseases.

Addressing these issues is crucial for your furry friend's comfort and well-being.

If you notice persistent head shaking or ear discomfort in your dog, consult a vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Check out our blog for more tips and tricks to enhance your pet's life.

With the right care and attention, you can help aid your dog's discomfort and ensure their ears remain healthy and infection-free.


Why does my dog keep shaking his head and scratching his ear?

Your dog might be experiencing an ear mite infection.

This may cause itchiness, leading them to shake their head excessively or scratch their ears.

This condition can also result in wax buildup and irritation.

These make your pet's ears appear red and inflamed.

At what point should I consider taking my dog to the vet for head shaking?

You should seek veterinary care if your dog continuously shakes its head from side to side, or if you notice uncontrollable head shaking.

These symptoms could show a neurological condition, which requires professional diagnosis and treatment.

Also, seeking medical advice from a vet will help determine the specific cause of your dog's head shakes.

Can head tremors in dogs be caused by ear infections?

Yes, ear infections are the most common health issue leading to excessive head shaking in dogs.

These infections can cause itchiness, inflammation, and discharge.

This prompts your dog to shake their head always.

What causes my dog to shake and itch excessively?

Dogs may exhibit behaviours like licking, chewing, scooting, and head shaking.

This is due to irritation and discomfort on their skin, rear end, or ears.

The primary reasons for itchiness include:

  • environmental allergies (atopy)
  • food allergies
  • parasites (such as fleas and mites), and
  • bacteria or yeast infection

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