What does it mean when you see your cat shaking head? That is a question that many cat owners have asked at one point or another. Head shaking in cats is in the majority of cases related to a problem with the ears, but there can as well be a genetic aspect to it. This is to mean that cat head shaking should not be ignored. You don’t want your cat to end up developing a hematoma in the ear from excess scratching, or worse still losing her hearing. This article will give you a rundown of common causes of head shaking in cats along with the treatment approaches typically used for each of the causes.
Cat Shaking Head Causes and Treatments
Apart from your cat shaking head, you will often notice other signs of infection, inflammation, or itching such as scratching the ears, ear discharge, bleeding from the ears, sneezing, and head tilting among others. Below is a list of the most common causes of cat head shaking:
Ear mite infestation is one of the most common reasons for head shaking in cats. Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are minute, spider like parasites that are easily spread from one cat to the other. To the naked eye, ear mites appear as dirty white specks that are constantly moving about in and around the ear canal.
Kittens are especially more prone to infestation with these parasites. The mites cause the affected cat intense itching (which manifests in the cat shaking head) and discomfort.
Ear Mite Symptoms
You should suspect ear mite infestation if you see the following signs and symptoms in addition to your cat shaking head:
- Foul odor from the ear canal
- Reddish or brown ear discharge
- Coffee-like grounds
- Ear scratching – Ear mites cause intense itching which makes your cat to keep scratching the ears.
- Thickened skin around the ear canal
If responsible for cat shaking head, ear mites are typically treated using one or more of the following methods:
- Anti-parasitic medications: Your veterinarian will often prescribe ear drops with medications formulated to kill the mites. In addition to direct application of anti-parasitic medications, it is also a good idea to treat your cat’s skin and environment with a powerful parasite controller e.g. Selamectin. This is sold as Revolution, Stronghold etc.
- Ear cleaning: Your veterinarian may also clean your cat’s ears to eliminate any discharge. Aesthetic may be used for severe infestations to reduce pain.
- Anti–inflammatory medications: These may be administered if your veterinarian deems them necessary for treatment of inflammation of the ear canal.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics may also be prescribed if secondary infection is involved.
- Frequent washing: Washing your cats bedding regularly is an effective home remedy for ear mite infestation. You should wash your cat’s bedding immediately after going home.
Middle Ear Infection
Another likely cause of cat shaking head, ear infection are usually bacterial in nature, even though some cases involve a fungi. They tend to be more common in kittens. Ear infections may follow an upper respiratory tract infection, in which case infections move from the nose up to the middle ear through the Eustachian tube. Scratching of the ears can also cause secondary bacterial or fungal infections of the ear.
Contributing factors for middle ear infection include excess earwax production, humid and warm atmospheric conditions, and hyperthyroidism.
Symptoms of ear infection include:
- Foul odor
- Shaking of the head
- Discharge from the affected ear
- Inflammation – the affected ear may become swollen.
Ear infection are usually treated with antibiotics or anti-fungal medication. Anti-inflammatory medications may also be given to your cat if your veterinarian deems it necessary.
Other than the voluntary head shaking, in an effort to get rid of ear mites, cats can also experience a back and forth, involuntary type of head shaking called tremors. The term tremors is used to refer to this neurological condition. If your feline friend keeps shaking her head yet her ears are clean and you can see no mites, tremors may be to blame.
Tremors are characterized by repetitive muscle contractions and relaxation that cause slow or violent movements (twitching) of the affected area of the body. The head and hind limbs are typically affected but cases of generalized tremors involving the whole body can also be seen.
Strenuous exercise and over-excitement can exacerbate the symptoms of tremors. Some cats for example shake their head more when playing or eating.
It is not clear how tremors develop but scientists believe it could be the result of one or more of the causes outlined below:
- Idiopathic (unknown): Yes, in some case, it may not possible for your veterinarian to tell the reason why you see your cat shaking head.
- Genetics: Tremors are hereditary meaning that your cats keeps shaking her head simply because she inherited the genes from her parents.
- Head trauma or injury
- Use of certain medications: Some medications can cause tremors as a side-effect
- Severe pain can also cause head tremors and may explain the involuntary “cat shaking head” phenomenon.
- Kidney problems
- Toxicity to plant or animal based toxins in the cat’s environment.
- Hypoglycemia: This refers to a condition whereby a cat’s blood is comprised of very low levels of glucose. It can for example be caused by tumors of the pancreas.
- Nervous system disorders
Treatment of Cat Head Shaking Due To Tremors
The majority of cat head tremor cases are treatable. If laboratory tests confirm that tremors are underlying reasons why you keep seeing your cat shaking head, your veterinarian will then treat the identified underlying problem.
In the event that a drug you have been giving to your cat is thought to be responsible, your veterinarian will prescribe an alternative drug. For the case of toxicity to chemicals, an antidote will be given (if available for that particular toxin) but it still paramount that the source of the toxin be eliminated entirely from the cat’s environment.
Nervous system disorder may also be a cause of tremors in cats. In most such cases, surgery will be performed to correct the problem.
Lastly, muscle movement controlling medications may also be prescribed to put the symptoms in check.
According to the Cat Channel, oral problems could also be a reason why your cat keeps shaking her head. If oral problems are to blame for head shaking, you are likely to observe one or more of the following signs and symptoms:
- Pawing at the mouth
- Halitosis, or bad breath if you like.
- Declined appetite
- Reduced grooming
- Meowing when touched around the jaws and mouth
If you suspect that your cat is having oral problems, take her to your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
An allergic reaction to something may also be the reason why you see your cat shaking head a lot. Your cat may be allergic to some foods, insects (in particular fleas), plants, and airborne allergens such as pollen. Allergies are associated with other symptoms such as watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and pawing on the affected areas of the skin.
Antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications are usually helpful but the ultimate treatment involves identifying the underlying causes and eliminating them from your cat’s environment and diet.
Foreign Object in Cat’s Ears or Nose
Grass seeds and other tiny objects often find their way into a cat’s ear and get lodged there. When that happens, they can make your feline friend to shake head a lot in a bid to force them out of the ear. The cat may also constantly paw at the effected ear.
If you think that your cat has something in the ear, take her to a vet for proper removal of the same. You should never poke around your cat’s ears as that puts her at risk of permanent loss of hearing.
The only exception is clearly visible objects that are within your reach. In that case, hold them with forceps, then pull them out gently. Finish by rinsing out the ear with a saline solution.
When foreign objects are lodged into the nose, your cat will keep pawing at it and sneezing.
Nasal and Ear Polyps
Lastly, polyps may also explain why your cat keeps shaking her head. These are benign (harmless) that often develop in the nasal cavity or the middle ear. Although any cat in any age group can be affected, polyps tend to be seen more in young adults. The underlying cause of nasal and ear polyps is not yet known.
Symptoms of polyps in cats include:
- Head shaking: In almost all cases, you will see the cat shaking head every now and then.
- Ear infection (see the symptoms of ear infection explained above).
- Tilting the head to one side
- Drooping eyelids
- Nasal discharge