Head bobbing in boxer dogs is a not-so-uncommon problem. It might feel concerning watching your beloved boxer dog wake up one morning and display an unusual head movement that seems to come out of nowhere. You call him to you and check his head and ears. Baffled, you keep an eye on him for the rest of the day. A day after, the episode seems to repeat. This time, the head bobbing is much more evident. Concerned, phone in hand, you decide to give your veterinarian a call. Head shaking in boxer dogs often starts just like that, out of the blue.
Head Bobbing in Boxer Dogs
The head bobbing movement observed can be up and down, side to side or rotational. The head-shaking episodes are generally short-lived and dogs appear to be alert and responsive.
Unlike dogs affected by seizures, boxer dogs affected by head bobbing are easily distracted by noises, calling their name or feeding them.
A common condition of head shaking involving boxer dogs is a condition known as “Idiopathic Head Bobbing Syndrome.” In simple words, head bobbing that cannot be linked to any medical conditions, and is in most cases, harmless.
Did you know? According to a study, boxers ranked third spot as the most commonly affected by head tumors. Also, boxers were found to suffer more from horizontal head movements (59 percent), followed then by vertical head movements (34 percent).
First and foremost, it’s important confirming that the boxer is actually suffering from Idiopathic Head Bobbing Syndrome. This condition is diagnosed through a process of exclusion.
A thorough veterinary examination, ideally followed by a consult with a board-certified veterinary neurologist can help exclude other potential conditions such as seizures through a neurologic evaluation.
In some cases, head bobbing may be associated with low calcium levels in the blood. This may occur in dogs who have recently whelped (given birth to puppies) and are lactating and who may have lowered calcium levels (eclampsia). Similar cases may have hormonal incidences, causing more visible head bobbing during estrus.
In some cases, head bobbing may be related to low glucose levels. In such cases, rubbing some Karo syrup or honey on the dog’s gums should minimize the head bobbing event (make sure these products contain no xylitol).
Because there may be several underlying causes, every case of head tremors in boxers should
be thoroughly investigated to rule out any other more serious causes such as hepatic encephalopathy, exposure to toxins, tumors or head injuries. Normally, bloodwork, an MRI and/or an analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid will suffix. When all checks out fine, then Idiopathic Head Bobbing Syndrome can be confirmed.
Treatment Options for Boxer Dog Head Bobbing
Because Idiopathic Head Bobbing Syndrome isn’t a real seizure and affected dogs do not go on to develop other neurological abnormalities, there is no need for use of anti-seizure medications such as phenobarbital or potassium bromide. In cases of idiopathic head bobbing, such medications do no good, because the syndrome is not related in any way to seizure activity. Affected dogs therefore, will not benefit from such medications and may actually develop unpleasant side effects from such medications.
While the syndrome may appear very annoying, it is generally not harmful and most dogs live well with it. It appears in most cases to bother much more the humans observing the behavior, than the dogs. Most dogs will suffer from episodic attacks. They may be symptom free for weeks or hours and then the head bobbing returns. The head bobbing also seems to subside when the dog is busy in an activity such as eating, performing a training task or playing.
Editor’s note: this post has been published in 2013, and has recently been updated and revamped in 2019 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.