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Dog Shaking Head Without an Ear Infection: Top Causes

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dog shaking head

If your dog is shaking their head but they have no other signs of an infection, or your vet has told you there is no infection present, what else could be going on?

Well, there are lots of other considerations when a dog is shaking their head. Let’s take a closer look at them here.

What makes an ear infection less likely?

Head shaking will often be linked with an ear infection. However, if we don’t have the other classic signs such as a red canal, excess wax and a bad smell, we may not be dealing with an infection. A vet can confirm this by swabbing the discharge within the ear, checking for any excess yeast and bacteria. If the ear shaking comes on rapidly within a matter of seconds and the ear canal normal from the outside, an ear infection is unlikely.

So, what else can cause ear shaking, if it is not an infection?

beagle shaking his head

Some of the top contenders would include:

  • A foreign body in the ear. Things like grass awns and thorns can easily migrate inside the ear canal, towards the ear drum. This can cause acute pain, particularly if the object is sharp. Your dog may yelp and shake their head vigorously, as soon as the foreign body moves into their canal.Foreign bodies are generally not visible to the naked eye and a vet will use a long tube (otoscope) to check inside the canal. Any debris can be removed with a long tweezers and this will sometimes require sedation.
  • An insect sting. Something like a spider or insect sting inside the ear will cause dogs to shake due to the discomfort and swelling. Again, signs develop within a matter of seconds. You may see the insect nearby, though this won’t always happen.If you are suspicious of an insect sting, it may help to provide some dog-safe anti-histamines and to try and remove any stinger that is visible. Most stings do not need further care but your dog would need to see the vet if they develop any signs of an allergic reaction, like facial swelling, trouble breathing or weakness.
  • Ear mites. Ear mites cause intense itching and are most commonly seen in young puppies. As well as head shaking, dogs may scratch so much that they cause cuts and bleeding on their ears. The debris tends to be thick and look like used coffee granules. Mites can be treated with certain spot-ons or ear drops and are usually not difficult to treat. They can be passed on to other dogs who are in close contact.
  • Atopic dermatitis. Dogs who have allergies to things like food and pollen will often develop itchy and inflamed skin in places like their paws, belly and ears. While there may be no infection, dogs can still shake and scratch their ears and the skin can be pink and inflamed.Secondary infections would not be uncommon, but the primary issue is the allergic disease. The key here is in identifying your dog’s triggers and avoiding them as much as possible. Medication that reduces itching and settles the skin is also crucial.

What should I do if my dog is shaking their head but I don’t think they have an infection?

Even if you think an infection is not likely, a vet check is usually best. Your vet can identify whether an infection is present or not, and establish what is truly going on. While antiboitics may not be needed, your dog may still need some medicine such as anti inflammatories and an ear cleaner.

Related posts about dogs shaking their heads

Dog Shaking Head and Tilting Head to One Side: Why?

Dog Shaking Head but Ears Are Clean: Top Reasons


  • Dr. Linda Simon, Veterinarian

    Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS) has 10 years of experience as a veterinarian. She is a veterinary surgeon with a special interest in geriatric patient care, dermatology and endocrinology. She is a member of the British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. She graduated top of her class from UCD School of Veterinary Medicine in Dublin in 2013. Linda has also worked as a locum vet in a range of clinics, including 24 hour emergency clinics and busy charity clinics.

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