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Head Tilting in Dogs

  • Heidi

When to Call Your Vet

We’ve talked before about dogs tilting their heads and how it improves their listening skills. While this is an adorable characteristic that can amp up the canine cuteness factor even more, it can also be a sign of a medical problem. But how do you know?

One of the first clues is a dog who starts tilting their head when they don’t seem to be interacting with you or their environment. That’s because dogs typically move their heads to isolate sounds or get a better view of your face.

Medical reasons lead to head tilting for very different reasons.

Ear problems

This tops the list as a leading cause of head tilting in dogs. Ear infections can cause pain, inflammation, and discomfort, causing a dog to tilt or paw their ears. Similarly, having a foreign object stuck in their ear can also lead to these behaviors.

Head injuries

Whether your dog was roughhousing with another dog or collided with a tree, they can sustain head injuries just like people. These types of traumas can interfere with a dog’s equilibrium, throwing them off balance and causing their head to tilt to one side.


Hypothyroidism can be a problem for dogs, especially those who are less active and carry extra weight. This condition develops when a dog doesn’t have enough thyroid hormone. In many cases, dogs with hypothyroidism also display additional symptoms, like skin abnormalities and leg weakness.

Vestibular disease

This condition affects the nerves in the inner ear that determine where the body is in relation to the ground. In dogs, it informs how their eyes and heads should move. When these nerves become inflamed, they can cause a dog to tilt their head, fall down, or roll to one side.

Vestibular disease can occur for a variety of reasons, some more serious than others.

The Takeaway

In most cases, head tilting from medical reasons also causes additional symptoms, such as:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Walking in circles
  • Coordination problems, like stumbling
  • Falling over
  • Erratic eye movement
  • Mental confusion

If you notice new head tilting behavior in your dog, especially with additional symptoms, contact your vet for more information as soon as possible.

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