Everyone sees their dog shake their head from time to time. It is so routine we hardly notice it. What do you do if it becomes very frequent and is accompanied by itching and obvious discomfort? How do you know when it is really a problem? Before we move on, if you have any doubt, please give us a call here at Newport Harbor Animal Hospital.

Chances are that if you are noticing the amount of head shaking there is something wrong. Most of the time this is associated with problems with one or both ears. We will cover the most common sources of problems and discuss their treatment.

Ear Infections:

Ear infections are the most common cause of head shaking. Other than head shaking what are signs your dog has an ear infection?

  • Pawing at the ear.
  • Redness of the ear.
  • Odor coming from the ear.
  • Discharge or excessive wax visible in the ear.
  • Crying when the ear is touched.

If you see any of the above signs it is important to schedule a visit.

Dog's ears are shaped like a soup ladle. They have a vertical ear canal that goes directly downward from the visible opening of the ear. It then takes a sharp turn inward which is the horizontal canal.

This is very important because it is important not to stick things like Q-tips down the ear canal. It is very easy to cause injury or pain, especially if the ear is infected and inflamed. The shape of the ear is also important when we are cleaning or administering medications to the ears.

What will the doctor do if my dog has an ear infection?

First a thorough exam of the ear will be done. If there is a lot of pain, sedation and pain medication may be necessary. It is important to be sure the ear drum is intact because it will affect what treatments can be used safely.

Cytology will be done. This means we will take a sample of the material in the ear and look at it under the microscope. The most common causes of infection are yeast and/or bacteria. This allows us to select the proper treatment.

An ear flush will be performed. Thorough cleaning of the ears allow us to get the proper medication to the infection. It also helps to change the environment of the canal to make it less suitable for these nasty organisms.

Once this has all been done we will send home a cleaning solution and medications. You are the most important part of our team. We will teach you how to do the treatment at home.

We will schedule a recheck about 2 weeks later to recheck the ears. During that time we will be sure the infection is gone and help you with long term care to prevent further infections.

Foreign Objects in the Ears:

Living in Orange County our dogs are exposed to a type of weed called a foxtail. These are very nasty and love to get stuck wherever they land. You may find them stuck in your socks after walking through a field.

When a foxtail gets stuck in your dog’s ear you will have no doubt there is a problem! The head shaking will be extreme.

If we find a foxtail we will remove it immediately. Once again sedation may be needed.

Dr Carpenter recently had a dog with another kind of object in the ear. He remove a massive bug that had crawled down a poor pooches’ ear. Ouch!


Allergies are a very common cause of head shaking in dogs. Allergies will cause the ears to become red and inflamed. They will frequently be followed by infections.

When allergies are the cause of the ear problem the doctor will need to focus on long term care of the allergies affecting the ears. Once again, you will be an important part of our team here at Newport Harbor.


Occasionally the first sign of fleas will be shaking the head. We have a number of great medications in our arsenal to fight fleas.

As you can see, there are many reasons your dog is shaking his head. We are here to tell you why it is happening and how to get it fixed!

Don’t hesitate to call. Our American Animal Hospital Accredited hospital is here to deal with any problems your pet encounters.


Our Pet Health Mission

Our mission at Newport Harbor Animal Hospital is: "To provide the highest quality veterinary care for our patients and the best service for our clients. Our goal in every case is a healthy pet and a happy client."