"Idiopathic head tremors in dogs
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"Idiopathic head tremors in dogs

Dogs
Health & Safety

Idiopathic head tremors are involuntary repetitive movements by the head of the dog, which usually present as if they are moving their head gently side to side as if there are shaking their head to say “no” to something, but can also take the form of an up and down movement as if your dog was nodding “yes.” Dogs affected with the condition will usually have episodes of such head-bobbing that last up to around three minutes in duration, remaining conscious throughout and even possibly continuing doing whatever it was that they were doing before.

The condition is benign and not painful, dangerous or upsetting for the dog, but understandably, such episodes can be cause for concern to the dog’s owners. In this article, we will look at idiopathic head tremors in dogs in more detail, and explain some of the background and breed-specific predispositions to the condition. Read on to learn more.

What causes idiopathic head tremors?

Idiopathic means that the condition occurs for no known reason, starting and stopping without any triggering factors affecting it. They are not a form of seizure, and while your dog cannot really control the motion, they remain conscious and are not negatively affected by the condition, either during or after a bout has occurred.

In affected dogs, the condition may present as often as several times a day, or occur as rarely as just a couple of times a year; there is no one size fits all explanation or behaviour pattern associated with the condition.

While the root cause of idiopathic head tremors in the dog is not definitively known, examination of the condition in affected dogs indicates that the following factors may play a part in the condition:

  • Hormonal changes, such as puberty in the dog, or pregnancy, delivery and lactation.
  • Growth spurts in juvenile dogs.
  • Low blood: glucose levels.
  • Low calcium levels.
  • Hereditary factors; the condition is often found within specific breed lines and breeds.

Are certain breeds more prone to the condition than others?

Idiopathic head tremors in the dog can theoretically happen to any breed, including mixed breeds and dogs with an unknown heritage. However, the condition does present more commonly in certain breeds than others. Some of the breeds of dog most commonly affected with the condition include:

  • Cavalier King Charles spaniel
  • English bulldog
  • Doberman pinscher
  • Boxer
  • Labrador retriever
  • French bulldog
  • Greyhound

What can you do for your dog when they are going through an episode?

There is nothing pro-active that you need to do for your dog when they are going through an episode of tremors, as your dog will not be bothered by their nodding and may not even be fully aware that it is happening. Often, panicking or distress from the owner over the episode will in turn distress the dog, and both responses are avoidable and unnecessary!

If the episode is bothering you or attracting attention, sometimes, diverting your dog’s attention can bring the episode to a premature finish, although it is not strictly necessary to intervene at all.

Try offering your dog a treat, a toy or a walk, or anything else that diverts their attention, and you may find that the episode can be brought to an early finish.

Can the condition be treated?

There is no treatment protocol or cure for idiopathic head tremors in the dog, as they are not dangerous or problematic, and do not have any lasting impact on your dog or their wellbeing. Head tremors of this type usually begin to become apparent when the dog is juvenile or a young adult, and they are unlikely to present for the first time in later life. Dogs with the condition should not be used for breeding, as the condition is potentially hereditary.

When you witness your dog going through the tremors for the first time, it is a good idea to schedule a veterinary appointment for your dog, so that any other conditions such as an inner ear disorder or epilepsy can be definitively ruled out. This is particularly important if your dog is mature when you first witness an episode, to be sure that there is not something else going on.

There are no medications or surgeries that can stop the condition from presenting, and other than attempting to interrupt your dog when they are having a tremor, nothing that ca be done to stop the condition from happening. Diagnosing the condition definitively involves ruling out other problems first, and various conditions including some types of petit mal seizure disorders, or even problems such as an infestation of ear mites can often present with similar symptoms.

It can help your vet to assess the condition and reach a diagnosis if you can film your dog having an episode, as they are unlikely to perform on demand when you get them to the clinic!

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