I am writing this because a visitor, Sarah, reported that her cat is shaking his head. “He is also shaking his head quite a bit, but other than that, eating, drinking, and acting normally”. He also has signs of a cold (in my view).
Caveat: Please see a good veterinarian. Head shaking indicates that the cat feels a need to get rid of something in or on their head, meaning the ears, nose or mouth. This can be mucus or puss caused by a bacterial infection or irritations caused by mites or as one visitor writes: a tumor.
Why does a domestic cat shake her head? A common reason is ear mites. But ear mites produce an underlying cause of head shaking e.g. an ear infection. Perhaps a secondary infection. The best resource I have on cat health states:
“Your cat has an ear problem if you notice ear scratching, repeated head shaking…..”
This confirms that head shaking is often linked to ear problems. A bacterial infection in the ear canal is probably the most likely cause. The ear canal is situated between the outer ear (the ear flap or pinna) and the ear drum. Bacterial infections like this are often caused by scratching the ear due to irritation.
“Signs of an infected ear canal are shaking the head….”
Allergies are one possible cause. Allergies cause irritation which in turn causes itching and scratching leading to a possible bacterial infection requiring antibiotics. The allergic reaction can be caused by food and/or allergens in the air. Allergies can affect the ear canals. A cat can be allergic to ear mites so there will be a double problem.
Head mange is caused by the head mite. It lives on the skin of the head and in and on the ears. It causes itching. Yeast infections of the ear can be caused by prolonged use of antibiotics. The ear can become inflamed and painful. This too may cause head shaking.
Ticks can invade the ear causing irritation. Also foreign bodies can enter the ear canal causing irritation and then infection. If a cat has been in tall grass the ears should be checked if the cat is head shaking. Ticks inhabit long grass and jump onto cats.
Head shaking and pawing at the nose suggests a foreign body in the nose. Or there might be sneezing and snuffling caused by the cat cold (e.g. herpes virus) leading to a secondary bacterial infection. The cat wants to get rid of the nose blockage caused by mucus and shakes the head.
Finally an inflamed, sore mouth (stomatitis) can lead to head shaking. The cat might also paw at his mouth, drool and refuse to eat.