Idiopathic Head Tremors

Doberman as a breed, are quite prone to many health concerns; Von Willebrand Disease, Dilated Cardiomyopathy, Hypothyroidism, Wobbler Syndrome, Bone Cancer, Bloat and Hip Dysplasia to name a few. Many, however, don’t know that idiopathic head tremors can also be added to that list.

Kyuss suffers from these tremors, and I flipped out thinking it was a seizure the first time he had an episode. He was about 9 or 10 months old at the time, and being my first dog, outside family pets, I was considerably worried.

He appeared normal throughout the entire thing, except for having a shaking head of course. He was alert and happy despite my obvious anxiety. I shoved him into the car and off to the vet we went. Naturally, by the time we got there the tremors had stopped. My vet informed me that it could be a seizure and to monitor him closely to see if it happens again.

So home we went, and I was online as soon as I set foot in the door, searching the interwebs like a mad woman. It didn’t take long for me to discover a video, with a Doberman nonetheless, exhibiting the same head bobbing.

So, what are they? Well, the bobbing/shaking can be up and down, side to side or something in between. They’re localized to the head and neck and the body is not affected. The dog will look alert, be able to move and walk, and respond normally. It’s not sure known what triggers them, but generally, they occur when the dog is in a sleepy state, such as when first rousing or settling down.
Diagnostic testing such as EEG’s, CT/MRI’s and spinal fluid on dogs with the condition will all come back normal. It’s also unknown if it’s genetic in nature. The tremors may last anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour or more.

Whenever Kyuss has an episode, which is about twice or three times yearly, I find a dollop of peanut butter on a spoon works wonders to ‘snap him out of it.’ Many speculate that jaw movement stops the tremors. Others believe it’s the brain focusing which causes them to cease. I’m not sure which it is, but the peanut butter is what I swear by.

If your dog is exhibiting similar symptoms you should always seek the advice of a vet first. Seizures can look very similar, but are much more serious.

Kyuss’ Head Tremors

Idiopathic Head Tremors – Dobermann from PennyPup on Vimeo.

This video was taken today, April 20th 2012. Sorry for such a short video, the memory card in my camera was full.
In total the tremor lasted about 2 – 2.5 minutes. By the time Kyuss had finished the peanut butter on the spoon the tremor had subsided.

Video Links

Kaiser’s Head Tremors
Bailey’s Head Tremors
Doberman head tremor 1
Doberman with head-bobbing syndrome
Brenna – idiopathic head bobbing?

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  1. Wow! I could see how that would frighten you. I’ve not had a dog that had these tremors, so I appreciate the information in case I do see it in the future.

    1. Yes, it was quite scary when he first displayed the symptoms. He rarely ever has them and this is the first time I caught it on video.

      I hope none of your dogs ever get them. Although they seem quite harmless, not much is known about them.

  2. I’m glad you posted about this! I intend to get there eventually, on my breed-specific posts.

    Elka has them as well; she never did until after she was spayed, when she was still wearing the cone. We at first assumed it was the cone touching her ears, in fact, but that ended up as not being the case. She typically seems to do it if she REALLY wants something. She did it while we were carving the turkey at Thanksgiving in ’10, she’ll do it sometimes when I leave (housemates have said), that kind of thing.

    1. Wow. That’s really interesting. It seems like Elka’s might be brought on by stress. Kyuss’ only occur when he’s tired it seems.

    1. I’d never known about them either until Kyuss had one. It’s very curious, especially since it’s common throughout the breed, yet knowon knows what they are or what causes them.

  3. I’ve never heard of it. Glad that it is a benign condition and the episodes can be stopped. Definitely would be scary to see when it first starts.

    Stopping by from the Saturday Pet Blogger Hop!

    1. Thanks for dropping in! I’m very glad it isn’t more serious as well. He very rarely has them, which I’ve very pleased about.

  4. My doberman was just diagnosed with head tremors. The videos have been very healpful. I showed my vet the one that looked similar to my dogs tremors and that helped explain it to her and she could see what I was talking about.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I’m glad the video was helpful. Try the peanut butter on a spoon trick when your dobe has a tremor. It seems to help them subside quickly. =]

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  6. Pennypup-
    My (neutered 2 years ago) 3.5 year old English Bulldog did this for the first time yesterday. I took him to the emergency vet and they told me he had Idiopathic Head Bobbing Syndrome (as described above). Since yesterday I’ve read a lot about this syndrome and it seems like some people have found different things that work for their dog. As you’ve mentioned, I’ve seen peanut butter or honey but I’ve also heard that giving calcium supplements, vitamin E oil, or coconut oil has helped.

    Additionally, as Jen mentioned, I’ve seen a lot of blog posts that say their dog seems to have them more episodes when involved in a stressful situation or environment. I don’t think this applies to my dog because we haven’t changed anything lately but could certainly be the cause for other dogs.

    “Alexadry’s” blog (Head bobbing in dogs) says this is common in Boxers, Dobermans, Cav. King Charles, and Bulldogs as well as mixed breeds that have those breeds in their bloodline.

    I’m talking to my regular vet tomorrow to figure out a plan for my pup but thought I’d share what I found out there.

    1. Thanks for commenting Sharon.

      I’m sorry your pup has started displaying the behaviour. It’s sad not knowing what causes them, if they can adversely affect your dog, and whether or not they can be cured.

      Since this last episode I filmed above, Kyuss has not had another one (that I’ve seen anyhow) and I’m a stay at home mother so he’s often with me.

      Thanks for sharing what you’ve discovered.

  7. Try Cranial Sacral work for the Dobe, I have had success in the past with Cranial work on this syndrome.

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