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Why Is My Dog’s Head Shaking Like a Seizure? Vet-Verified Facts & FAQ

Written by: Misty Layne

Last Updated on June 10, 2024 by Dogster Team

Beagle shaking head

Why Is My Dog’s Head Shaking Like a Seizure? Vet-Verified Facts & FAQ


Dr. Lauren Demos  Photo


Dr. Lauren Demos

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you’ve seen your dog’s head shaking like they’re having a seizure, it probably scared you a bit and caused you to ask yourself, “Why does my dog’s head tremble like that sometimes?”. This sort of head shaking is potentially a head tremor known as an idiopathic head tremor, the causes of which are unknown.

If your dog is experiencing these kinds of head tremors, you should still schedule a visit with your vet, though, because there is a chance that the cause of your dog’s head tremors is something more serious.

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What Are Idiopathic Head Tremors?

Idiopathic head tremors are called “idiopathic” because the cause is unknown when they happen. While these types of head tremors can happen in any dog, middle-aged canines and specific breeds are more prone to them than others.

Idiopathic head tremors cause an up-and-down movement of the head or a side-to-side one (like a dog shaking their head “no”). These head tremors have been known to remind people of bobblehead dolls, too. Idiopathic head tremors are involuntary, so they aren’t something a canine can control.

Female vet examining sick and sad Rhodesian ridgeback dog
Image Credit; Zontica, Shutterstock

What Causes Idiopathic Head Tremors?

No one quite knows why idiopathic head tremors occur. However, there are many theories about their causes.

However, the good news is that idiopathic head tremors aren’t thought to be dangerous for dogs! So, if you take your pup to the vet, and this is the diagnosis, they’ll more than likely be fine. In some cases, the idiopathic head tremors will disappear on their own, given time. In others, they will come and go.


Which Canines Are Prone to Idiopathic Head Tremors?

As we said, some canine breeds are more prone to experiencing idiopathic head tremors than others, so there could be a genetic reason these tremors occur. But which dog breeds are more likely to experience these head tremors? Breeds with a seeming predisposition for idiopathic head tremors include Bulldogs, and Dobermans, though any breed can potentially develop this issue.

How Are Idiopathic Head Tremors Treated?

Because idiopathic head tremors are benign, there really isn’t a medical treatment for them. Medications you might use for other kinds of tremors, like anti-convulsants, won’t reliably stop idiopathic head tremors. However, if your dog’s head shaking bothers you, you may be able to help them!

A study in Veterinary Medicine International examined idiopathic head tremors and found that distracting a dog during a head-shaking episode stopped the tremors in 87% of canines. So, if your pet’s head is shaking, you can try distracting it with treats, food, a walk or a toy to see if it helps the tremors stop.

corgi dog shaking on grass
Image Credit: BachkovaNatalia, Shutterstock

Are There Head Tremors Other Than Idiopathic Ones?

There are absolutely head tremors other than idiopathic ones, which is why it’s so important you take your dog to the vet for a diagnosis if you see their head shaking. Neuromuscular and neurological disorders can cause head tremors in canines, as can other health issues. Just a few of the things that could result in a dog’s head shaking are:

  • Disorders affecting the brain or central nervous system
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Head injury
  • Electrolyte imbalances

So, take your dog to the vet if you see their head shaking for seemingly no reason, just to be sure. In many instances, though, head shaking will be a simple case of idiopathic head tremors.

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Final Thoughts

If you’ve noticed your dog’s head shaking and wondered what was up, it’s potentially a case of idiopathic head tremors. These head tremors seemingly have no cause, and no medical treatment is available, but they aren’t dangerous for dogs. You may be able to stop them by simply distracting your pup.

However, other things can cause head tremors, too, and many are more serious. A dog experiencing head shaking should be taken to the vet for a proper diagnosis to ensure nothing more serious is going on with their health.


Featured Image Credit: Przemek Iciak, Shutterstock

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