Isn’t it cute whenever our cats shake their heads? But beyond the adorable look, there might be a serious reason behind it. So why does my cat shake his head? Depending on how your kitty shakes its head, it can be anything from ear infections, mites, oral problems, or even aural hematoma. It’s important to observe your cat and contact the vet if head shaking isn’t ceasing.
Below, I discussed these potential causes and what you can do about them:
Why is my cat shaking its head?
If your cat is doing a typical head shake, it’s probably just removing something from its head. However, if the shaking is frequently happening and at rapid speeds, you should check for the following:
1. Ear infection
One of the most common reasons behind a cat’s head shaking is an ear infection. Your cat shakes its head in an effort to eliminate the discomfort. This will go on and on until the infection has been treated. Take note that untreated ear infections in cats can lead to more serious symptoms like disorientation and even loss of balance.
On its early onset, a cat ear infection will cause yellowish or blackish discharge. It’s accompanied by a strong odor and hearing loss among the affected cats. Over time, you’ll also notice your cat’s ear flap becoming inflamed.
Take note that even an indoor cat can contract ear infections. This health issue is due to an overgrowth in bacteria and yeast, but wax buildup due to poor grooming can also be the culprit. The following are the other potential causes of ear infections in cats:
- Foreign objects like grass, tiny toys, and crumpled paper
- Environmental irritants like pollens and dust
- Thick hair growth near the ear canal
- Ruptured eardrum
- Health conditions like diabetes, leukemia, and autoimmune disease
The good thing is that ear infections are fairly easy to treat if detected early. The vet will use various treatments based on the cause of the infection. It could be anything from antibiotics, anti-parasitics, or antifungals. This is usually administered as ointments or drops, which you can perform at home. However, if the infection doesn’t go away, you should take the cat back to the vet for an intensive examination.
2. Ear mites
Another common culprit behind your cat’s head shaking is ear mites. These tiny insects will cause an agonizing itch, which will lead your cat to shake its head and paw on its ears. If not treated, an ear mite infestation will make the ear swell together with a smelly discharge.
So where does your cat get the ear mites? Felines can pick up the parasite just about anywhere, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors. However, even indoor cats can become hosts of the mite since the insect can crawl around. Also, it can transfer from cat to cat.
Visually, you can see tiny, black specs on your cat’s ear. Unlike dirt, the specs will be moving and crawling around. It’s essential to bring your cat to the vet once you spot this sign.
At the vet’s clinic, your cat’s veterinarian will have to clean the affected ear first. In some cases, the cat would have to be sedated to keep it calm and still.
For the treatment, the vet will administer an anti-parasitic medication. This has to be applied to your cat’s ears for days until the infestation clears up. Most of the time, the vet will prescribe the medication so you can administer it at home.
3. Dental problems
If your cat’s ears are all clean, you should rule out dental problems next. The likes of gingivitis, periodontal disease, rotten tooth, gum problems, and so on are uncomfortable. And since your cat can’t stick a paw inside its mouth, they shake their heads to try to ease the problem. Aside from head shaking, your cat will also paw on its mouth incessantly, which can be accompanied by drooling.
Take note that dental problems never go away on their own. It just gets worse by the day if you don’t get your cat treated.
A quick check of your cat’s mouth will reveal a lot about its dental health. Discolored teeth, inflamed gums, and bad breath are all tell-tale signs of dental problems that require veterinary care.
Remember that dental problems can open an entryway for infections. Worst cases can even lead to heart problems as pathogens enter the bloodstream. Aside from vet treatments, dental hygiene is also necessary.
Like humans, cats can also develop allergies at any point in their lives. The allergens can be anything from pollens, food, insects, grooming supplies, and more. All of these can make your cat’s head itch so badly that they feel compelled to shake their noggin. Take note that insect bites from fleas and ticks can also lead to allergic reactions in cats.
The first step to address this problem is to identify the allergen. This part requires the expertise of a veterinarian to perform various tests.
Once the vet has pointed out the allergen, he or she will prescribe the necessary medications. Sometimes, it can be as simple as a topical solution to ease the itch. Meanwhile, some cats would have to be switched to a new food or be put under extended medication.
Cats can also have an abnormal growth inside their ears called polyps. These are benign growths that can grow either in the middle ear or outer ear of a cat. Also, it’s more observed on younger cats, though older ones aren’t immune to it. In fact, if an ear polyp grows in an older cat, there’s a high chance that it would be malignant.
The major sign that your cat has an ear polyp is head shaking, pawing the ear, and a foul odor emanating from the affected ear. The only way to properly diagnose this is to bring the cat to the vet. Blood work ad radiographs will confirm the presence of polyps.
If your cat does have this growth, the vet will have to remove the mass using forceps. The cat would be sedated since the polyp would be pulled out of the ear. However, if the growth isn’t visible from the back of the cat’s throat, a surgical procedure called bulla osteotomy is needed.
During the operation, the vet will make an incision right under the side of your cat’s neck. This is to expose the bulla and the bone floor within it. From there, the vet can access and remove the polyp on the inner ear.
Take note that polyps in cats have a 50% chance of recurring if removed manually by pulling the mass out. On the other hand, polyps removed through osteotomy rarely grow back.
6. Aural hematoma
Lastly, a cat that shakes its head non-stop might be suffering from a condition called an aural hematoma. This occurs when blood clots accumulate within the ear flap or pinna of the cat. With this condition, the affected ear flap will look spongy and very thick. It will soon become inflamed, and infections may occur as the clots spread on other parts of your cat’s ear.
So what causes this condition? Many of the cats that experienced this have a form of allergy, infection, or an ear problem. There are also cases when a lodged object inside the ear canal triggers blood clot formation. The best thing to do here is to bring your cat to the vet for proper examination.
The vet will remove the blood clots through a small incision on the affected flap to treat this condition. Next, a drain tube will be placed inside where the lots will pass through. Once it’s drained, the veterinarian will stitch the incision, and the cat will be put on an Elizabethan collar.
In some cases, the cat may need to be sedated for a few days to prevent head shaking, damaging the pinna.
7. Cerebellar hypoplasia
The worst possible scenario is that your cat actually has cerebellar hypoplasia. This is a neurological condition on which a feline’s brain didn’t fully develop in its mother’s womb. But instead of random head shakes, it would be non-stop head tremors.
Take note that cerebellar hypoplasia is a congenital disorder. It can’t be acquired later in life, so if your old cat is starting to have a head tremor, it’s something else. You have to bring it to the vet immediately.
Also, cats with this condition will have trouble walking, keeping their balance, and locating objects. The kitty will also appear wobbly and its limbs will splay as if it’s too weak to stand.
Moreover, cerebellar hypoplasia in cats is easily detected during kittenhood. So if your new cat is showing these signs, you should bring it to the vet right away.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for this condition. The only consolation is that your cat won’t feel any pain and that the condition isn’t progressive.
Most kittens with cerebellar hypoplasia can adapt to the defect and live long lives with the right owner. Unlike normal cats, those with this condition require more attention since they are prone to falls and accidents.
Can humans get ear mites from cats?
Technically, the ear mites of your cat can crawl into your skin. However, the likelihood of cat ear mite infection in humans is highly unlikely. Overall, ear mites from cats aren’t a risk to humans since we don’t have fur where the insect can burrow.
Still, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to clean up your house after the infestation. Like ticks and fleas, ear mites can hang around and re-infest your pet if you don’t remove its population. Vacuuming your house, airing carpets, and washing all the sheets will help remove the remaining mites.
Can I put peroxide in my cat’s ear?
No! You should never use peroxide on your cat’s ear. My cat Watson’s vet has emphasized to us that it’s a big no-no. Peroxides can irritate the ear canal, which will lead to further head shaking and infections.
When it comes to ear cleaning, you should use an ear cleaner made for felines. This product has antifungal and antibacterial characteristics while remaining gentle on the kitty’s ears. Your cat’s veterinarian can prescribe a suitable ear cleaner for your pet. Just remember that you’re not supposed to use dog ear cleaners on cats.
Why does my cat shake his head when he eats?
Contrary to what others think, cats won’t shake their heads while eating just because they hate the food. This behavior is actually rooted in a feline’s instincts in the wild.
Whenever a feline catches a bird or any live food source, it will shake its head to try to stop the animal from struggling. It’s an instinct that some domesticated cats still exhibit.
Another explanation here is that your cat’s food is hard to chew. It will appear as if your cat is shaking its head when, in fact, it’s just tilting side to side to break down the food. Picking up a small bite from the bowl will also trigger a sudden headshake, especially if their whiskers have gotten into the crumbs.
If the head-shaking stops after eating, I don’t think it should be a cause of concern. Nevertheless, observing your cat and raising the concern to the vet on your next visit won’t hurt.
Why does my cat shake his head when I touch his ears?
Cats’ ears are very sensitive, so if you try to touch their earlobes, they will perform a quick head shake. Take this as a sign that the touch is unwelcome.
Most cats like scratches behind their ears and not within the earflap. But if the head shaking isn’t going away, it’s best to rule out the possibilities I discussed above.
Why does my cat shake his head? Above, I discussed six possible reasons ranging from ear infections to a condition called an aural hematoma. Whatever the reason is, you should never ignore it. It’s best to bring your cat to a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Did you encounter any of these issues with your cat? Share your thoughts below!