Head Shaking in Cats

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Key takeaways

Head shaking in cats refers to turning the head rapidly from side to side, often in response to irritation or pain in the ears.

  • Occasional head shaking in cats is normal, but if it is excessive or accompanied by other symptoms it may indicate an underlying medical condition
  • Head shaking can be caused by a wide variety of underlying conditions, including ear infections, allergies, mange, and neurological disorders
  • The symptom rarely indicates an emergency, but if accompanied by other symptoms veterinary attention is required
  • Diagnostics include a physical examination, ear exam, and neurologic exam
  • Advanced diagnostic imaging may be required if a neurologic disorder is suspected
  • Treatment depends on the underlying condition, and may include medication, removal of irritants, or surgery
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A closer look: Head Shaking in Cats


Head shaking is very common in cats. Alone, it is usually a sign of itchiness or discomfort in the ears, and is unlikely to be an emergency. Excessive head shaking warrants prompt veterinary examination to rule out underlying health concerns.

If presenting alongside other symptoms such as seizures, vomiting, or difficulty breathing, emergency intervention is indicated.

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Possible causes


Risk factors


As a symptom, head shaking primarily varies in how often it occurs. Frequency of head shaking is not always indicative of severity.

If itchiness is the underlying cause of head shaking, cats may also paw at their ears, or rub themselves on furniture in an effort to scratch themselves.

If caused by a neurological condition, the head shaking may be accompanied by seizures and abnormal mentation.

Testing and diagnosis


Diagnostics include:

  • A physical examination
  • Otoscopic examination
  • Diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays, CT or MRI
  • Bloodwork
  • Ear and skin cytology
  • Neurologic exam

Treatment depends on underlying causes, and may include:

  • Removal of irritants from the ear
  • Cleaning the ears
  • Medication, such as antibiotics or antivirals
  • Topical ointments
  • Surgery

Similar symptoms


Head shaking is often a sign of normal cat behavior, as a response to mild irritation or itchiness of the ears.

Associated symptoms


References


Emily Johnson & Brooke Bundy - Writing for BetterPet
Amanda Woodhead - Writing for Life with CH Cats
Grace Park - Writing for Wag!
Jennifer Coates, DVM - Writing for PetMD
Liz Waynick, RVT - Writing for The Spruce Pets

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