7 reasons why cats may shake their heads

There are some pet behaviors that owners may find endearing — licking, pawing and chewing, to name a few. However, there are some behaviors to look out for, as these may indicate something more serious. Excessive licking could be a sign of allergies or anxiety. The same goes for pawing at themselves, which can either be harmless or signify an eye infection and even excessive chewing could be a sign of oral pain. Then, there is headshaking in cats. If you have noticed your cat frequently shaking their head, they might need deworming medication due to a medical problem.

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Is it normal for cats to shake their heads?

Yes and no, says Dr. Paola Cuevas, veterinarian, MVZ, and behaviorist. Just like with licking, pawing or chewing, any behavior that is excessive is something to watch.

“A head shake here and there is totally normal behavior, just like we sometimes roll our necks or stretch our arms without having any pain or discomfort,” Dr. Cuevas explains. “However, If you have noticed your cat started to frequently shake their head, this is a clear indication that something is not right.”

Cats may shake their heads because they’re in pain

“The most common reason why cats shake their heads is because they are experiencing pain or discomfort in their ears,” Dr. Cuevas says. “If this is the case you will often see that the cats are also scratching their ear area.”

Inflammation of the ear could be due to a few reasons and will require medical attention in most cases. An inflamed ear, red and swollen ear canal, waxy debris or a smelly discharge are other symptoms to look out for, according to Dr. Cuevas.

Medical issues that might cause ear pain include bacterial infections, yeast infections, allergies or ear mites.

Liquid comes out of your cat’s ears when they have ear mites or a yeast infection

Any kind of discharge coming out of your cat’s ears could indicate an infection — not just liquid discharge.

“Some of the possible reasons might be bacterial infections, ear mite infestations, and yeast overgrowth, which will need specific treatments,” Dr. Cuevas explains.

Even indoor cats can get ear mites, the most common of which is Otodectes cynotis. These mites live in the ear canal and feed on the thin layer of skin in your cat’s ear. Dr. Nicole Savageau, a veterinarian with The Vets, also weighs in. 

“Ear mites are tiny parasites that can infest a cat’s ears, causing irritation and itching,” Dr. Savageau explains. “Head shaking is a common response to this discomfort.” 

Other conditions that cause headshaking in cats

Dr. Savageau adds that head shaking is usually any kind of reaction to pain or discomfort, no matter the exact cause.

“Skin conditions, such as dermatitis or skin allergies, may affect the ears and lead to head shaking as a way to alleviate itching or discomfort,” she says, adding that it can also indicate headaches, allergies or even behavioral issues.

“Head shaking can sometimes be a response to pain or discomfort, including headaches,” Dr. Savageau says. However, it can be challenging to diagnose headaches in cats, and other signs of pain or illness are typically present.

“Cats can [also] be allergic to various environmental factors, including pollen, dust or certain foods. Allergies may lead to itching and discomfort. Mosquito allergies, which results in scabbing and crusting along the ears, will make them shake their head.”

Headshaking in cats can also indicate trauma, seizures or foreign objects in the ear canal.

“It is very important to differentiate between a cat’s voluntary head shaking and involuntary head movements, which would be pointing toward cats suffering from neurological conditions,” Dr. Cuevas says. “Seizures are other forms of involuntary movement that might also include head shaking, however, other parts of the body will also be affected,” specifically the legs.

In the event of a seizure or involuntary movements, Dr. Cuevas recommends seeing a veterinarian immediately.

To keep track of how often your cat is shaking their head, a collar with a bell can come in handy. It will ring every time your cat exhibits this behavior, alerting you to a potential issue. Also included below are some over-the-counter remedies for ear mites and other causes of itchiness.

Best cat collars with bells

6 cat collars with bells in different colors

Extodry 6-Pack Classic Plaid Collars

These cat collars come in a six-pack and each one has a black plastic buckle in the shape of a cat. The cat face on the buckle has rounded ears in lieu of pointy ones, so as to not poke them in the neck.

14 cat collars with bells in different colors

Extodry 14-Pack Reflective Breakaway Cat Collars

The bell on each of these 14 reflective collars matches the color of the collar itself. Like the plaid collars from the same brand mentioned above, these feature a black buckle in the shape of a kitty with rounded ears.

6 reflective cat collars with bells in different colors

Bemix Pets Reflective Cat Collar Reflective Cat Collar

Available in red, orange, green, blue, purple and pink — with a reflective gray stripe through the middle — each color has a silver bell and a breakaway buckle that’s adjustable from seven to 11 inches.

5 customizable cat collars with bells

GoTags Custom Embroidered Cat ID Collars

These collars are completely customizable, from the color of the collar (which matches the bell) to the color of the font. Your pet’s name will come embroidered onto the color, as well as your phone number, so if your cat gets lost, the contact number will be in plain sight.

a collar with a circular pocket for an Apple Airtag

Dgerp Airtag Breakaway Cat Collar

This breakaway cat collar is available in eight collar options — including black, blue, green, yellow, orange, pink, purple and red. In addition to a bell, this collar also features a circular pocket for an Apple Airtag — sold separately — so you can locate your pet if they get lost.

customizable cat collars with bells

Flowertown Personalized Embroidered Nylon Cat ID Collars

With more than 14,000 Amazon ratings, these Flowertown collars can be customized with your cat’s name and your contact number, which will be embroidered onto the collar. You can choose from six collar color options and 12 embroidery thread color options — 25 characters max.

cat collars with bells in different colors

Bemix Stars and Moon Cat Collar

With a celestial pattern of stars and moons, this cat collar comes in a four-pack with one red, one purple, one blue and one black collar. The pattern sticks out in a shimmery gold, which is also reflective at night.

glow in the dark cat collars with bells

Patkaw Three-Piece Glowing Cat Collar

There is no need for reflective stripes on this cat collar because the entire thing glows in the dark. Each collar in this three-pack has a different pattern — fish bones, paw prints and footprints. Since it completely glows in the dark, the collar appears to be fully white in the daytime.

cat collar with bell

Kittyrama Aqua Cat Collar

Made from soft, lightweight and hypoallergenic silicone that protects the neck area from moisture, heat and general irritation, this cat collar features a breakaway safety release clasp in the shape of a house. The bell is removable, and in addition to solid collars, it’s also available in various floral patterns and stripes.

cat collar with bell and a silicone Airtag holder

Jxfukal Silicone Airtag Holder Cat Collar

This three-in-one collar comes in a daisy print (with six colors to choose from), has a space for holding an Airtag and has a glow-in-the-dark ring around the Airtag. The bell on this collar isn’t shaped like a bell, but a white-and-yellow daisy that functions the same way a bell does.

Worth checking out

  • Pet owners who don’t want to sacrifice style might like the Yizepet Breakaway Cat Collar, which comes in a four-pack and features four floral designs, a flower key chain, and bell.
  • While it’s important to consult your veterinarian before giving any kind of medical treatment yourself, cats may find relief from allergy-induced itchiness with Vetnique Labs Dermabliss Allergy Shampoo.
  • Add some extra bling to your cat’s collar with the Wdpaws Heart Pink Cat Collar that’s outfitted with baby pink crystals.
  • You should speak to your veterinarian before dispensing any medication, but Pet Armor Ear Mite and Tick is an ear dropper that uses Aloe vera to kill off mites and ticks.

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