Why Is My Dog Swaying Back and Forth?

As dog owners, we quickly become used to the quirky behavior our dogs adopt. But it’s essential to note when quirky behavior isn’t quirky at all and that there is something wrong with your beloved furry pal.

There are serious medical reasons that a dog could be swaying back and forth. We cover these below, as well the treatment options.   

Why Is My Dog Swaying Back and Forth?

There are various reasons why your dog may be swaying back and forth. The most common reason is vestibular disease, but there are other causes too. Let’s have a look at these. 

Reason 1: Vestibular Disease 

The vestibular system controls your dog’s balance. So if there’s anything wrong with the vestibular system and the connection between their brain and inner ear isn’t working properly, your dog will be swaying back and forth (and will be off balance).

Vestibular disease, also called canine odiopathic vestibular syndrome, or old dog vestibular disease, can be grouped into: 

  1. Peripheral vestibular disease, which is caused by cancer, a rupture in the inner ear, or an inner ear infection. This type of vestibular disease is common in long-eared dogs like goldendoodles, hounds, and cocker spaniels, and in dogs whose ears are regularly cleaned.  
  2. Central vestibular disease occurs when something affects your dog’s brainstem and cerebellum. Causes could be cancer or lesions in these areas, brain tumors, brain stroke, inflammation to the brain area, or poison ingestion. 

Vestibular disease can also be caused by injury, trauma, tick-borne illnesses, and be idiopathic where the reason isn’t known. Idiopathic vestibular disease usually resolves on its own.  

Apart from swaying back and forth, your dog may also have a few other symptoms when they stand still or walk: 

  • Moving their eyes from one side to the other 
  • Head tilt 
  • Falling or tumbling over in the direction of the head tilt 
  • Unwillingness to move around 
  • Lack of/or reduced appetite 
  • Nausea and/or vomiting 

Reason 2: Head Trauma 

Head trauma can also result in your dog being off balance. If your pooch hit their head and/or fell, then head trauma may occur. Head trauma can also happen if your dog is in a hit-and-run. 

The head trauma may lead to a concussion, brain swelling, or a brain hemorrhage or bleed. 

Symptoms of head trauma, apart from swaying back and forth, are: 

  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Lethargy 
  • Unusual eye movements 
  • Bleeding from a head wound 

Reason 3: Ear Infection 

Your dog’s ear canal is in an “L” shape that easily traps moisture. If you don’t clean your dog’s ears regularly, and especially in long-eared dog breeds, bacteria and yeast can build up, leading to an ear infection. 

An ear infection can cause your dog to be wobbly and sway back and forth. Other symptoms of an inner ear infection are: 

  • A discharge 
  • Ears that smell bad 
  • Your dog will whine all the time 
  • Itchy ear(s) 
  • Dog will try to scratch their ear(s) 

Why Is My Dog Rocking His Head Back and Forth?

Your dog can rock their head back and forth for a few reasons, from non-serious and even playful to very serious: 

Non-Serious Head Rocking Back and Forth 

Your dog rocking their head back and forth could simply be a way to get something out that shouldn’t be there in the first place. 

Your pooch can also seem to rock their head back and forth when they are stretching out their muscles after a nap. Or they can lightly shake their head as a stretch before playing with you or other dogs. 

They can also imitate your head rocking back and forth as you try to get to the top of the mountain after a hot and long hike. 

Serious Head Rocking Back and Forth 

However, if your dog is excessively rocking or shaking their head back and forth, it is most likely a yeast or bacterial infection in their ears. Ear infections are itchy, and dogs don’t have fingers like people do to give themselves a good ear scratch. So they shake their heads to relieve the itch that builds up with the ear infection’s inflammation and discharge.

Look into your dog’s ears. If you see redness, a discharge, and/or swelling, an ear infection is likely the culprit.   

If your dog suffers from recurring ear infections, ask your vet to look for underlying conditions, like hypothyroidism, anatomical abnormalities, or allergies. 

An ear mite infestation will also cause your dog to vigorously rock their head back and forth.

Your dog can also shake or rock their heads back and forth if a foreign object is stuck in their ear canal, if they have an inflammatory disease, or a neurological disorder that causes head tremors. 

What to Do About My Dog Swaying Back and Forth?

Identifying why your dog is swaying back and forth and even rocking their head is essential for two reasons. 

One, your dog can get treatment to get better and improve their quality of life. Two, continued and excessive head shaking or rocking can cause blood vessels to rupture in your dog’s ear pinna. An aural hematoma needs surgery, so treatment and prevention are vital.  

Treatment for Vestibular Disease 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for vestibular disease. Only idiopathic vestibular disease isn’t harmful and will go away in time. 

Take your dog to the vet so they can examine your pooch. Your dog may need supportive care until they are better. 

There are treatment options to make your dog’s life more comfortable when they have vestibular disease. These include nausea medication and propentofylline (a medication that helps the brain’s ability to heal itself speed up). 

You may also need to help your dog when it’s time to go potty or get up and down stairs. Ensure your dog is comfortable, and even if a slight head tilt persists after most of the other symptoms of vestibular disease are resolved, your dog’s quality of life shouldn’t decrease in any way. 

Treatment for Head Trauma 

If your dog is suffering from head trauma, keep them warm and calm while transporting your dog to the vet for an emergency appointment. 

Apply a saline-soaked compress to a bleeding head injury to help project it from infection, and keep pressure on the wounds to help stop the bleeding. 

When you arrive at the clinic, your vet will ask you what happened if you didn’t call beforehand while offering supporting measures like an intravenous drip with medication to prevent swelling and inflammation and help with pain. 

The vet will closely monitor your dog, and if there’s swelling in the brain, your dog may be given diuretics and corticosteroids. Neurological testing may also be needed. 

Treatment for an Inner Ear Infection 

Take your dog to the vet when you notice that your pooch has an inner ear infection. Your vet will perform a test to see what kind of inner ear infection your dog has and then decide on the appropriate treatment option. 

Treatment may be: 

  • Topical in the form of a cleanser and ear drop or ointment
  • Oral like an antibiotic, antifungal, or steroid medication
  • Surgical to open the ear canal or remove diseased tissue when the ear doesn’t respond to other medical treatments