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This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

A normal animal will sit, stand, walk and run with its head held upright - nose pointing forwards. From time to time you will see pets that hold their head tilted to one side ...why ?

A pet will sometimes temporarily cock it's head to one side if it is listening to a feint noise, or if it is looking at something inquisitively. This is normal behaviour and is nothing to be concerned about. If on the other hand your pet holds it's head to one side and cannot keep it level - there is something wrong !

Keeping the head level is important for normal posture and movement and tilting of the head usually involves a degree of  loss of balance. Balance is controlled in part by sensitive structures located in the inner ear. Diseases of the outer ear canal eg the presence of foreign bodies such as grass seeds, parasites or infections (otitis externa) can result in a sequence of events that leads to inflammation of the inner ear and loss of balance. If there is irritation in the outer ear canal the animal may scratch or rub at the affected ear, or shake it's head violently.

Balance also requires normal function in parts of the brain so loss of balance can be associated with primary or secondary brain disease. Causes can include trauma, toxins (some antibiotics can cause loss of balance), infections, tumours, hypothyroidism   ..and so on.

Animals with head tilt will often show other signs :

  • They are unable to walk in a straight line
  • They walk in circles - towards the affected side
  • They stagger to one side - towards the affected side
  • They can fall over completely
  • They may have pain in the region of the affected ear
  • The eyes may flick from side to side (called nystagmus)
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • There may be other nervous signs - such as twitching

Some of the causes of head tilt are straight forward to treat but others are serious so veterinary  advice should be sought as soon as possible. Successful treatment requires accurate diagnosis - so it is important that you record all the relevant signs and recall any significant events up to and after the point that your pet started showing signs of head tilt. 


Updated October 2013