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Head Shaking

Maltese Head Shaking


It's not uncommon for a puppy or dog to start shaking his head; though the reasons for doing so can vary from very minor issues to quite serious health conditions. 

This section will discuss the most commonly seen scenarios of head shaking and the most probable causes. 

Shaking the Head After Being at the Groomers

This is not uncommon with the Maltese breed or for any dog for that matter. Often while at the dog groomer's, an ear cleaning and/or an ear plucking (removal of long hairs in the ear canal) is performed. This can lead to temporary irritation and some itchiness that causes a Maltese to shake his head. 

If hairs were plucked first, with cleanser added later, this can cause a temporary hot burning sensation that may cause a Maltese to shake his head as well. In most cases, this will go away later that same day. 

You'll want to keep a careful eye on the ears for any discharge or odor. If the Maltese continues to shake his head for longer than 2 days, or the intensity or frequency of the head shaking worsens, it will be time to have the veterinarian take a look.

Shaking the Head While Pawing at or Rubbing at It

One of the most common reasons that a Maltese puppy or dog will continually shake his head is due to an issue with the ears. If so, there is often some pawing at the ears and/or the dog may rub his head against surfaces such as the carpeting or the walls.This is usually done to relieve either itching or irritation. 

The following are the most typical ear problems:

Wax buildup - Some wax is normal and works to protect the sensitive ear canal from debris including dead skin cells by trapping tiny particles. However, some dogs are prone to excessive buildup and this can lead to issues. When there is too much wax you can often see this as a yellow-brown substance with or without an odor.
It can cause pain, hearing loss, dizziness, and lead to infection. In some cases there is also an issue with long hairs as well. You can clean the ears at home, or have the vet or groomer perform an ear flush and do any necessary plucking.

If there is no infection, removal of the excess wax should clear up the issue.

Mites - Ear mites are common with dogs (and cats) because these can very easily spread from one animal to the other. While there are several types, the most common is called otodectes cynotis. 

These are very tiny and barely noticeable to the human eye. However, they can cause a dog to feel an array of symptoms that leads to head shaking. This includes itching, irritation, and inflammation. 

There are classic signs such as the above mentioned head shaking along with rubbing the head, a black or brown waxy discharge, a strong odor and in some cases, a discharge that resembles coffee grounds.

Without treatment, head shaking can become much worse due to the mites causing blood vessels inside the ear flap to rupture. In addition, there can be a secondary infection.

Since symptoms can mimic bacterial infections, it is important to have a veterinarian diagnose this. A sample of the discharge will be examined. 

If mites are found to be the cause of head shaking several treatment steps will be done. This includes a professional cleaning, parasite medications and possibly antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatory medication.
Infection - The most common signs of this are shaking the head and rubbing or pawing at the ears. There may also be a bad odor and/or red swollen skin seen on the inside of the ear flap. 

There are several types of infection including yeast, fungal, and bacterial. 

Cleaning the ears at home may clear up the issue; though this does depend on the cause and the severity. 

If you do opt to try treating the ears yourself, you may want to try using a medicated ear cleanser like Pet King's Zymox Otic Enzymatic Ear Cleanser Solution, which works well to reduce itching, and for some dogs can actually clear up an infection. 

Since severe infections can damage the inner tissue and structures of the canal, you may wish to bring your Maltese straight to the vet, or if you try a cleanser at home certainly make an appointment if you do not see fast results. 

At the vet clinic, a swab will be taken and this is usually followed by a professional flushing of the canals and then appropriate prescribed mediation depending on the type of infection.
Foreign body - When playing outside, many small foreign objects can enter the ear canal, though the most typical culprits include a blade of grass, an insect, and tiny pebbles. This can happen if a Maltese is rolling around in the yard or has popped his head into shrubbery to inspect things. 

If the problem has recently occurred the only sign will be head shaking as the dog works feverishly to loosen the offending object. If it is left there, it can cause quite a bit of irritation, swelling and increasing itching and/or discomfort. 

In some cases, an owner will be able to lift the flap and see the object. If so, it can sometimes be carefully removed via fingertips or the very careful use of tweezers or grooming forceps. If not, a veterinarian will need to remove the debris and check for any additional damage to the sensitive tissue. 

Shaking the Head and Panting

Whenever a Maltese has both head shaking and heavy panting this points to the dog being in distress. 

Aside from some light panting during exercise, breathing heavy is not normal and often means that a dog is experiencing pain or is overwhelmed with a health issue. This can include a mounting ear infection, a mite infestation that has grown worse, or even ruptured vessels within the ear.

If your Maltese is panting and shaking this is a red flag for immediate veterinary care. 

Repetitive Head Bobbing

Head bobbing refers to a Maltese making repetitive motions of the head in a rhythmic motion. This may be vertical as if the dog is nodding 'yes' or horizontal as if the dog is gesturing 'no'.  

There are several possible causes for this including:

Hypoglycemia - This is most common with very young Maltese puppies up to the age of 4 months, though it can occur with older pups. It is a rapid drop in blood sugar levels due to many causes including stress and not eating on a regular basis. 

The Maltese may appear to be very sleepy, nodding his head as if in a drowsy trance, have trouble walking and/or appear to be dizzy. 

Minor cases can be treated at home by rubbing a dab of honey onto the gums. Other remedies for minor cases are nutri-cal or a few bits of children's sugar coated cereal.  

If this does not resolve the issue or for moderate to severe cases, professional veterinary treatment will be needed which often includes IV treatment to balance out sugar levels. Severe cases can lead to coma and even death.

Toxic poisoning - In this event, a dog may have shaking limited to the head or trembling all over the body. Other signs vary greatly including: panicked behavior, weakness, drooling, dry heaving, vomiting, bloated stomach, and/or other unusual behavior. 

If poisoning is suspected, owners should contact the vet or a pet poison hotline ASAP such as the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) for instructions. Do note that pet poison hotlines charge fees. 

Idiopathic head tremors - These are involuntary muscle contractions of the head and neck that causes a dog to bob his head, with a typical episode lasting only 2 to 3 minutes. 

Once it passes, the Maltese may act as if nothing happened at all. 

The cause of these is still unknown and it is not thought to have any lasting negative effects. If a Maltese has ongoing episodes of this type of head bobbing, it can help to record an episode that can be shown to the vet, since the odds of it happening during a visit are slim.
This is diagnosed by ruling out all other possible health issues and by the above mentioned video-witnessing of exactly how the head is shaking and bobbing. 

While episodes are short, owners are often instructed to support the dog's head with a soft pillow. In addition, offering a bit of a sugary treat such as honey or peanut butter can often 'snap' a Maltese out of an episode. 

Could it Be White Shaker Dog Syndrome?

Many Maltese owners are aware of White Dog Shaker Syndrome since its name was derived by this initially only affecting pure white breeds including the Maltese. However, now it has been seen in dogs of other coat colors as well. 

While this is always something to keep in mind, while there may be just head tremors, many dogs are affected on other areas of the body or there are full body tremors.

Undiagnosed Head Shaking

Though the above mentioned conditions are the most common reasons for why a Maltese puppy or dog will shake his head, there are some cases when all tests come back negative and a vet cannot pinpoint the cause.

In these cases owners have found that switching foods to change the main protein of the dog's diet - chicken to fish or vice versa- or changing to a grain free formula has brought about results. If food intolerance or allergy is indeed the trigger for head shaking, it usually takes 2 to 3 weeks of being on a new diet to see results. 
Also, keep in mind that the culprit may be snacks and if you are changing the main meals you may also want to think about the treats that are being given. Dog treats that contain high levels of artificial coloring, flavoring, or chemical preservatives can be the cause of a host of issues.
For this reason, you may want to consider wholesome, all-natural treats like Fruitables Pumpkin & Apple Crunchy Dog Treats or one of their other all-natural fruity treat options. 

Head Shaking as a Behavioral Matter

While we're on the subject, it should be noted that some dogs will shake and bob their head simply as a way to gain attention. 

A Maltese may bop his head along to music or lean his head back and forth to make you look at him. It's almost always clear when this is just a matter of trying to gain your attention and nothing to be concerned with. 

There will not be any other symptoms and once your dog does have your attention, he will look pleased as if to say, 'made you look!" In these cases, it's just a matter of our canine family members finding another venue to communicate with us. 

Red Flags Symptoms

You'll want to bring your Maltese to the veterinarian for an examination if he has any of the following signs:

• Head shaking that lasts more than 2 days
• Ear discharge
• A bad odor coming from the ears
• Any signs of illness including vomiting, dry heaving, diarrhea, fever, and/or weakness

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