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Home > Cats > Why Do Cats Shake Their Heads? 15 Possible Reasons & FAQ

Why Do Cats Shake Their Heads? 15 Possible Reasons & FAQ

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Cats engage in many strange activities, but one of the stranger ones is shaking their heads around. But why do they do this? Keep reading as we list several possible reasons and answer a few related questions to help you be better informed.


The 15 Reasons Why Cats Shake Their Heads

1. Grooming

Cats are known for their cleanliness, and shaking their heads can be a natural part of their grooming routine. Cats use their paws to clean their faces and ears during grooming sessions, and shaking their heads helps them dislodge any dirt, debris, or excess moisture that may have accumulated in their fur.

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2. Ear Cleaning

Cats have an amazing ability to keep their ears clean using only their paws and tongue. However, they sometimes shake their heads after grooming to remove any loose particles and get their ears back into position.

3. Playfulness

Cats love to play, and shaking their heads can signify excitement during playtime. It usually accompanies other energetic behaviors, such as pouncing, chasing toys, or mock hunting.

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4. Irritation or Discomfort

If something irritates a cat’s ears, such as an insect or foreign object, they may shake their heads vigorously to dislodge it. The shaking motion is an instinctual response to alleviate any discomfort or annoyance in the ear.

5. Ear Mites

Ear mites are common parasites that can infest a cat’s ears. They cause intense itching and irritation, prompting cats to shake their heads forcefully to alleviate the discomfort caused by these tiny pests. It’s a common reason that a cat might shake their head for seemingly no reason, and you might be able to see the mites by looking into the ear. They look like black dirt or coffee grounds, and you should contact the vet immediately to get medication.

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6. Ear Infection

Ear infections, whether bacteria or yeast related, can cause significant discomfort for cats. Along with head shaking, you may observe scratching, redness, swelling, discharge, or a foul odor emanating from the ears. If you notice these signs, contact your vet immediately to get the proper treatment.

7. Allergies

Like humans, cats can develop allergies to certain foods, environmental factors, or substances that they encounter. Allergic reactions can manifest as itching or irritation in various body parts, including the ears. Cats may shake their heads vigorously to relieve the itching sensation. If you think that allergies are affecting your cat, contact the vet to have them tested.

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8. Ear Canal Polyps

Ear canal polyps are abnormal growths in a cat’s ear canal.1 These often cause discomfort, including itching and pain. In response, cats may vigorously shake their heads to mitigate the unpleasant sensations caused by these growths.

9. Ear Injury

Trauma or injury to the ear, such as from a fight or accident, can lead to pain and irritation. Cats may shake their heads as a reflexive response to the discomfort caused by the injury.

Cat scratching behind ears
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10. Water in the Ears

Many cats dislike water, and getting their ears wet during grooming or bathing can be particularly bothersome. Head shaking is how they remove water from the ears and restore comfort.

11. Vestibular Issues

The vestibular system in the inner ear helps cats maintain their balance and coordination. Any disturbance or dysfunction in this system, such as an infection or injury, can result in head shaking, loss of balance, or an unsteady gait. Many cats will have difficulty standing and may keep falling over. Fortunately, the episodes usually only last a few seconds, and with treatment, things will usually return to normal in a few days to weeks.

red tabby cat in pain walking on grass outdoor
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12. Neurological Disorders

Certain neurological conditions can cause involuntary head shaking in cats. Seizures or tremors may manifest as rhythmic or uncontrolled shaking movements. These conditions require medical attention and management.

13. Foreign Objects

If a foreign object like a grass seed or another small particle becomes lodged in a cat’s ear, it can cause significant discomfort and irritation. The cat may shake their head vigorously to dislodge the object and alleviate the pain. If this behavior persists and the object remains stuck, you’ll need to take your cat to the vet to have their ears checked.

cats ears checked by vet
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14. Ear Canal Stenosis

Ear canal stenosis is the narrowing of the ear canal, often due to chronic inflammation. This condition can cause discomfort and lead to head shaking as the cat tries to relieve the irritation caused by the constricted ear canal. Vet treatment is required.

15. Pain or Discomfort Elsewhere

Cats may shake their heads as a response to pain or discomfort originating from other parts of their body. For example, dental pain, jaw problems, or even pain in the neck or back can cause a cat to shake their head in an attempt to reduce their pain.

close up of sick-looking orange cat lying on wooden planks
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Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Normal for Cats to Shake Their Heads?

Yes, it can be normal for cats to shake their heads during their grooming routine or while playing. However, excessive or persistent head shaking may indicate an underlying health issue.

How Can I Tell If My Cat’s Head Shaking Is a Problem?

Pay attention to the frequency and intensity of the head shaking. If your cat shakes their head excessively or forcefully or the head shaking is accompanied by other signs of discomfort or distress, it may indicate a medical problem. Other signs to watch for include redness, swelling, discharge, odor, or changes in behavior.

Are There Any Home Remedies for Cat Head Shaking?

Before you attempt home remedies, it’s important to identify the underlying cause of the head shaking. Some causes, such as ear mites or infections, may require specific treatments prescribed by a veterinarian. It’s best to consult a vet for appropriate advice and guidance tailored to your cat’s condition.

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Final Thoughts

A cat might shake their head for many reasons. One of the most common is that it’s part of their grooming procedure, and they do it to knock out any foreign debris and water particles and to straighten out their ears and fur. However, they will also shake their head if they have ear mites or an infection, so it’s important to check your cat’s ears regularly and visit the vet if the shaking is frequent and violent.

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