Why Won't My Dog Stop Shaking Their Head?

Why Won’t My Dog Stop Shaking His Head?

“Shake it, sh-shake it. Shake it like a Polaroid picture.” If only they were bopping to the beat, but the truth is, when dogs shake their heads all the time, it usually means one of two things. At best, they have dirty ears and simply need a good cleaning. At worse, they have an ear infection and will need a visit to the vet.

To get to the bottom of things, you’ll want to first take a peek inside your dog’s ears. Should you worry if you see dark brown ear wax? What about redness? Rather than chase your tail, keep reading and we’ll uncover all things doggie ear health.

Is It Normal for Dogs to Have Ear Wax?

While we may think of it as gross, ear wax serves an important purpose – not just for us humans, but for our four-legged companions as well. Ear wax helps protect the ears from debris, pollen and dirt. The ears are like a self-cleaning oven: as ear wax forms and travels out of the ear, it takes all that debris with it.

So yes, it IS normal to see a small amount of wax in your dog’s ears. And some breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels, Bassets, and English Bulldogs, are prone to excessive ear wax and will need more frequent ear cleanings to avoid infection.

What If My Dog Has Dark Brown Ear Wax?

Healthy ear wax will be pale to golden-yellow. But keep in mind, even some light brown ear wax is normal if you have a dog who loves to roll around in the dirt. As dirt mixes with “normal ear wax,” it can give the appearance of dark brown ear wax. If that’s the case, it’s time to do more digging. (Er, not literally – do not go poking around in your dog’s ears!)

The Nose Knows …

If you spot dark brown ear wax in your dog’s ears or you notice constant dog head shaking, be sure to smell your dog’s ears. No odor is normal, and dirty ears that just need a cleaning may have a mild smell. But anything yeasty or downright “yuck” smelling is a sign of a dog ear infection.

What Color Should the Skin Inside My Dog’s Ear Be?

A healthy dog ear will be light pink with no redness or inflammation. Redness means your dog likely has an infection, or it could be irritated if they’re scratching at their ears and damaging the tissue.

Does the Dark Brown Gunk in Dog’s Ear Look Like Coffee Grounds?

If the brown stuff in your dog’s ears resembles coffee grounds, this is a sign of ear mites and will require a trip to the veterinarian. Ear mites are tiny pests that feed on wax and oils in a dog’s ear. This process produces crumbly, reddish-brown gunk in dogs’ ears, similar in appearance to coffee grounds. You’ll also notice itching and head shaking.

Ear mites are highly contagious and can spread easily to other pets in the home, including cats. Before you panic, however, know that ear mites are most often seen in puppies and not adult dogs.

When In Doubt, Have a Vet Check It Out

Head shaking by itself, especially if it’s only for a day or two, should not sound any alarms. It’s a natural behavior that dogs do to keep their ears clean and dry. However, if it’s in conjunction with any of the other signs of ear infection, don’t take matters into your own hands. Instead, make an appointment with the vet.

Signs of a Dog Ear Infection

Clean Ears Are a Natural Defense Against Ear Infections (And Annoying Head Shaking!)

For dogs who get a lot of ear wax and dirt in their ears, regular ear cleaning can help them stay itch- and shake-free … and more importantly, help them avoid an ear infection. But don’t clean their ears if they don’t need it! Otherwise, it could cause irritation. Your vet is a great resource for how often your dog should have ear cleanings.

5 Tips for Successful Dog Ear Cleaning

The reality is, unlike their W-A-L-K, ear cleaning is not an activity most dogs look forward to. That’s why it’s important to make it as pleasant as possible. Follow these tips, and before you know it, you’ll be a bona-fide dog ear cleaning expert.

  1. Regularly Handle Your Dog’s Ears
    Before you ever bust out the ear cleaner, you’ll want to make sure your dog is comfortable with you handling his ears. Get in the habit of rubbing your dog behind the ears and lifting up the ear flap.
  2. Have a High-Value Treat
    Always give your dog a treat after ear cleaning. That way, your pooch will always associate ear cleaning with something positive. You may even want to get treats that are JUST for ear cleaning. That way your dog isn’t like “meh, not worth it.”
  3. Timing Is Everything
    Delivery van dropping off a package? Not the best time to clean the ears. Cat all up in your dog’s face? Also a no. Choose a time when your dog is nice and chill, like after a long walk or trip to the dog park.
  4. Location, location, location
    You may be surprised at how much gunk can fly out of your dog’s ears after they shake them post-cleaning. This natural ear flopping motion helps dislodge all that accumulated wax and other gunk. That’s a good thing for your dog, but not so good for your furniture. So choose an area that’s easy to clean, such as the bathroom. You may also want to have your pet sit or stand in the corner of the room so they can’t run away.
  5. Choose a No-Sting Dog Ear Cleaner
    You’re probably thinking, “Duh! Shouldn’t EVERY dog ear cleaner be sting-free?” You would think so, but the reality is, many are formulated with ingredients that can sting the ear, such as alcohol, fragrance and salicylic acid.

DIY dog ear cleaners can be just as bad. Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar not only sting, but they also bubble up when applied, which can freak the dog out.

What Groomers & Vets Recommend …

Groomers and vets are wild about Oxyfresh Pet Ear Cleaner. So soothing and gentle, it’s perfect for cleaning even the most sensitive dog ears. It quickly removes dark brown ear wax and dirt, and unlike many other ear cleaners, there’s no need to hassle with the extra step of rinsing, saving pet parents time and frustration.

Oxyfresh Pet Ear Cleaner is uniquely free of harsh chemicals, fragrance and alcohol, the ingredients that can sting and cause further irritation. Instead, you’ll find only safe, no-sting ingredients that help stop yeast and bacteria growth, the culprits behind dog ear infections and itchy, smelly dog ears.

Paws Down, the Best Dog Ear Cleaner

  • Gentle, no-sting formula
  • Stops pesky itch & odors
  • Removes stubborn dark brown ear wax
  • Helps prevent pet ear infections
  • 2020 Family Choice Award Winner

Say goodbye to dog head scratching and treat your dog to Oxyfresh Pet Ear Cleaner!

P.S. Spread some pawsitive vibes and share this post with your fellow pet parents.

Advanced Pet Ear Cleaner | Fast Ear Itch Relief | Removes Dirt & Pet Ear Wax

melissa gulbranson oxyfresh cmo

Meet the Author

Melissa Gulbranson is the Co-Chief Operating Officer & Chief Marketing Officer for Oxyfresh. A recipient of the Pet Age's "Women of Influence" Award, she’s passionate about educating pet parents in ways that really resonate with them. Melissa loves days on the lake and hiking with her fur kid, Parker, and husband, Doug. Parker (a total ham) can be spotted running laps through the office each morning, greeting every team member. You can find Parker near the treats, and Melissa on Linkedin.