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Idiopathic Head Tremors in Dogs | VETgirl Veterinary CE Blog

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, we demonstrate what a dog with Idiopathic Head Tremors looks like. While this isn’t very common, it can be quite scary for a pet owner to observe.

Idiopathic Head Tremors have been reported in several breeds of dogs including the Labrador retriever, doberman pinscher, boxer, and English bulldog. With these tremors, three classic movements are seen: rotational (“bobble head”), up and down (“yes”), and side to side (“no”). These typically last 1-3 minutes long, and may stop acutely without a post-ictal stage.

Typically, dogs are alert and responsive during these short tremor episodes and often can be stopped by distracting, feeding, or talking to the patient. Stress and excitement is thought to potentially exacerbate the head tremors.

There is no known cause for Idiopathic Head tremors, and it is considered idiopathic. Most neurologist don’t believe this as a true seizure, but rather as a paroxysmal dyskinesia. Ideally, a complete neurologic evaluation and workup should be performed (e.g., CSF tap, MRI, blood work) to rule out other causes. With Idiopathic Head Tremors, all findings are typically normal.

Currently, there is no medication that is recommended, as none have been shown to improve or prevent the tremors. Anticonvulsants are not known to improve Idiopathic Head Tremors. Typically, distracting the patient to get it out of an episode is the best treatment.

21 thoughts on “Idiopathic Head Tremors in Dogs | VETgirl Veterinary CE Blog

  1. Thank you for your information my dog started this last night and has had 5 tremors in less than 24hrs. But can’t afford all the tests usually helps to take him for a walk right away

  2. Is this something that the dog has to have supervision when you go to work or are you able to leave them by their selves

    • Honestly, when we leave dogs at home, they could potentially seizure and we’re not aware. It’s likely ok to leave them by themselves if your veterinarian is ok with it.

  3. Thank you so much for this information! We have a 3 year old, black Labrador and I just noticed this in her within the past 2 weeks. She looks exactly like your sweet baby in the video, only not as pronounced in her bobbing. I have noticed maybe 5 episodes now, around 1-2 minutes where she is conscious and it stops when we talk to her or she gets up. She has nothing else out of the ordinary. Your video and explanation are very helpful. I have taken video of her and will discuss with my vet at her next scheduled check up. It’s very nice to have a starting point to talk with them about! Hoping to avoid expensive tests or unnecessary medication. Thank you!

  4. This happens to my staffy. I explained to the vet what happens and they have given me some diazepam for her . They said it’s a seizure. After watching this video, it looks like it’s an idiopathic head tremor . The only thing different is that they can last for half an hour until the diazepam has worked . Does anyone know if this Could still be an idiopathic head tremor ?

  5. What is your opinion in a tremor like this but it’s constant? When my kelpie x staffy was 6 months old, within a week she developed these head tremors by they’d only stop when she was asleep. At first it was the slightest shake only I could notice, took her to the vet twice and he couldn’t really see anything, then within 3-4 days they got so bad se could hardly stand because her head was shaking so bad but continuously. Vet put her on anti inflammatory and steroids, I changed her diet and have her a tblsp on Greek yoghurt 3 times a day and within 2 weeks it went and hasn’t cone back (it’s been about a year)
    I read on another forum saying they had their dog on Black Hawk, it developed idiopathis tremors like that video, they put it onto Science Diet and it went. I had actually done the same thing, she was on Black Hawk and I put her on Science Diet (she’s on different food now), so I’m not sure if it was the diet change that helped, if it was the Back Hawk.

    Are any of you feeding your dogs Black Hawk?

  6. Thank you for the video and the information. Exactly what I was looking for, an answer. I especially appreciate the fact that I wasn’t first stopped and asked to join or buy anything. You’re bookmarked 🙂 Thanks again.

  7. Hi I am not sure what’s going on with my little Terrier that all the sudden he just started bobbing his head and acting nervous doesn’t last 1 2 3 minutes it goes on for hours and I don’t know what to think and how do they get this condition I’m worried

  8. My Doberman started with this about 2 1/2 years ago. The episodes were infrequent at first and distraction with food or a bone would help. The vet did a work up on him and findings were inconclusive. However over the past 8 months the episodes have started lasting progressively longer and they just don’t stop-he can’t even sleep. The vet started him on diazepam 2x daily and it seems to take about 30 mins for him to settle down. Otherwise he doesn’t ever relax, unfortunately he has gotten to where they don’t go away even with distraction now.

  9. I have a 3 yr old black lab border collie mix on a raw diet. I just noticed 2 episodes left to right motion while he was starting to wake up from sleep but his were about the same time the last 2 nights, about 2 hrs after dinner. Woke up and now is fine. The episode only last about 20 to 30 seconds then he wakes up disoriented a bit , but then fine. I’ve read enough and he is going to vet in morning.

  10. This is very helpful. I’d never heard of Idiopathic Head Tremor in all the years I’ve had labs… so had no idea what was happening when our 4 year old chocolate had 6 tremors in two hours last night. Thankfully, I videotaped a couple of them and sent them to a local vet/neurologist. Our pup is also a ‘stumbler’ – he trips on things like rugs and shoes – so it may be a larger problem. He’ll have a work-up in January, but it doesn’t appear to be the emergency we felt like it was last night. Very scary to watch if you’ve never seen it happen before.

  11. Thankyou for this video, it is exactly what my 10 year old lab has started this morning. Will take him to the vet to get checked out but should be good.

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