When a Dog's Tilting Head is a Sign of Trouble

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It's adorable when dogs sharply tilt their heads to one side as they observe something fascinating. This is certainly a way in which some dogs demonstrate curiosity or even mild confusion. But frequent head tilting can also be a sign of a serious problem, and your dog can in fact be holding their head in that way because they're having trouble maintaining their balance.

Inside the Inner Ear

Your ears (and those of your dog) aren't just for hearing. The vestibular system is located deep inside the inner ear. This regulates your awareness of whether you're sitting, standing, lying flat or even falling. It essentially helps to keep you upright by sending your brain the applicable guidance that helps to control your position and posture. Some ear infections in dogs can affect the vestibular system, and chronic head tilting can be the early sign of such an infection. Your dog is tilting their head because their vestibular system is compromised, sending reduced or incorrect signals to their brain, making it difficult for them to maintain their balance.

Signs of Concern

Chronic head tilting is unlikely to be the only symptom of an ear infection that has affected your dog's vestibular system. Your dog may scratch at their ears in an attempt to reach the site that's bothering them. As their motor functions become affected, they may find it difficult to move in a straight line, almost instinctively circling back. These compromised motor functions can also make it seem like your dog has suddenly become clumsy and uncoordinated. There may also be more general signs, such as vomiting, nausea and even fatigue. 

Seek Treatment

If your dog displays any signs which may be an infection of their vestibular system, they must be assessed by a vet. Although the infection is likely to be limited to their inner ear, it could also be caused by a neurological disorder. A physical examination will be performed, paying particular attention to the ear canal, and an x-ray is likely. If the infection is confined to the inner ear, it can be treated with medication. If a neurological disorder is discovered, then different actions will be needed. A benign growth on the brain (or inside the ear canal) can be surgically removed. A malignant growth will require removal, perhaps in addition to chemotherapy. The best treatment obviously depends on the specific causes.

Occasional head tilting is incredibly cute, but if it should become chronic, it's important to find out why.

For more information, contact a vet near you.

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