About Head Tremors in Dogs

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Doberman pinschers are among the breeds predisposed to head tremors.
Doberman pinschers are among the breeds predisposed to head tremors. (Image: Apple Tree House/Photodisc/Getty Images)

If your dog's head starts moving uncontrollably, you're probably panicking. Stay calm -- usually, these incidents don't indicate anything seriously wrong. Most head tremors in dogs are idiopathic, meaning there's no clear reason why they are occurring. Even though most head tremors look far scarier than they really are, take your dog to the veterinarian for an examination. Sometimes, an underlying condition causes the tremors.

Head Tremors

If your dog experiences a head tremor, his head moves either up and down or side to side, as if he's nodding yes or no. He's conscious during the episode -- it's not a seizure. These tremors aren't painful, but they can last up to three minutes and appear frightening to the onlooker. Once the tremors stop, the dog goes back to normal with no ill effects. Since your dog is basically OK, don't overreact when he's having a tremor. Your reaction is scarier to him than the actual tremoring.

Affected Breeds

Any dog can develop head tremors. However, certain breeds appear to have a genetic predisposition toward the disorder. These include beagles, Dalmatians, Labrador retrievers, French bulldogs, English bulldogs, Doberman pinschers, springer spaniels, Weimaraners, chow chows, Samoyeds and boxers. Younger and middle-age canines are more often affected than older dogs.

Tremor Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will need a complete history of the dog's tremor episodes. If possible, take a video of an incident to show her. She'll perform a physical exam on your pet, conduct blood tests and a urinalysis, and possibly conduct ultrasounds and X-rays. She wants to rule out any serious issues, such as a brain tumor. Tell your vet about any medications or supplements you give your dog.

Possible causes of head tremors include trauma, drug reactions and vestibular disease. The latter disturbs the canine vestibular system, responsible for balance. However, most cases of vestibular disease occur in aged dogs and involve more issues than head tremors. Vestibular disease usually resolves itself within a few days.

Stopping the Tremors

If your dog's head tremor turns out to be idiopathic, there's no real treatment. However, you might stop an episode by simply distracting your pet. Try giving him a treat or holding his head. Throw his favorite toy to him. Diversion helps stop the tremoring because it causes the dog's neck muscles constrict. The good news is that head tremors tend to diminish as dogs age. When an older dog does have an episode, it's usually brief or subdued.

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