This page lists the causes of cat head shaking. Cardi, a cat with terminal cancer I am looking after for a very old lady who is in hospital, is shaking her head from time to time (she is also called “Cardie”). She has also put her paw into her ear on just one occasion. I have checked her ear briefly and it looks clear. She is passive, thin, eats reasonably, goes to the toilet OK and sleeps a lot. She seems reasonably content but I don’t like to see head shaking.
I notice that cats shake their head on a one-off basis when they have discomfort relating to a single, particular event. It could be at any time. Perhaps a cat jumps off something and falls heavily. The cat might briefly shake his head. For me, the reason why they do it is to remove transient pain or discomfort. It is probably a way of distracting themselves from feeling the discomfort or pain. That is my personal theory. There are other direct medical reasons why a cat might shake his or her head persistently, which I list below.
In the case of Cardi, my diagnosis, which has already been indirectly supported by the vet at a previous consultation, is that Cardi has a sore tooth. This is one reason why she eats with a bit of difficulty. Her teeth, in general, are OK. It appears to be one tooth but may be more. My theory is that Cardi has put her paw into her ear because it is a tooth on the upper jaw causing tooth ache.
Doing cat dental work requires a general anesthetic and Cardi is frail with terminal cancer, I am told. However, there is no reason why she shouldn’t receive treatment for her sore tooth. Anesthetics can be dangerous but I feel I have to fix this problem as it will help her put on weight as she will eat better. What I might also try is some pain killers from the vet. I can’t allow her have a persistent tooth ache. Regrettably the consideration is cost. That sounds cruel but ultimately all health issues, human and companion animal hinge around cost.
Causes of Cat Head Shaking (other than what I have said above)
Ear problems are the single most common reason for cat head shaking.
- Outer ear problem. Itchy ear. Perhaps the cat has been bitten in a fight and the ear is infected. There may be an abscess.
- Blood clot under the skin of the ear flap (pinna). This is called a hematoma. Hematomas can be caused by trauma (injury).
- Irritation and/or infection of the ear canal. This might be a bacterial infection due to a scratch or bite to the ear. Or it might be due to ear mites. An infection of the ear canal is called bacterial otitis externa.
- Foreign body or a tick in the ear canal.
- Ear mites. Other signs: head tilt, waxy material in ears, scratching ears.
Nasal irritation due to a foreign body in the nose can be accompanied by head shaking. It is quite rare for an object to get stuck in the nose because the passages are narrow. Other signs of a nasal foreign body are violent sneezing, pawing at the nose, head tilting, eye squint or the cat might drop her nose to the floor and breathe deeply. The nose can become infected (bacterial) if the object remains in the nose for longer than a day.
An inflammed and sore mouth can result in head shaking as well as drooling and difficulty with eating. The medical term for an inflammed mouth is stomatitis.