Saturday, December 15, 2012

Idiopathic Head Tremors in Dogs

(a.k.a. Idiopathic Head Bobbing Syndrome in Dogs)

Before I get started, I want to say that this post has absolutely nothing to do with photography, so I hope you will indulge me as I take a moment to write about something that I wanted to share with the internet world. I hope that by writing this maybe I can save someone else the fear and stress that I went through when I was the one frantically searching to figure out what was wrong with one of my sweet fur babies.

You see, one of my dogs suffers from Idiopathic Head Tremors (or Idiopathic Head Bobbing Syndrome). Zoe had her first episode about 4 years ago, when she was a little over a year old. The first time it happened it was so mild that I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but over a few weeks the episodes increased in severity to the point that it was impossible to miss.

Here is a short video taken of Zoe during one of her recent head tremor episodes.  As you can see in the video, her head tremors side to side and varies in the severity throughout the episode.  The more she is concentrating on looking at me the less her head shakes.  She is used to immediately getting food so I know she was sitting there wondering what was going on while I was recording:

Of course, I did what everyone would do in the same situation... I freaked out, started googling, and made an appointment to take Zoe to the vet.  The end result of all of that was basically that no one could explain what was causing her head tremors or what we could do about them.  At the time I was terrified that something was horribly wrong with my baby and that she had a disease that was going to cause her to suffer and/or take her life.

After four years of living with Zoe's head tremors, I can happily tell you that absolute isn't the case!  Even though Zoe has "head bobbies" or "the bobbies" (as we call them), she lives a completely normal, healthy, happy (spoiled) dog life.  I'm sure every case is different, but Zoe almost always gets her head tremors in the evening and will often get them as soon as she is waking up from a nap.  They tend to happen the most when she is stressed.  Zoe doesn't like change and doesn't like it when her normal routine is disrupted.  So, the head tremors are more likely to show up during those times.  She will often get several episodes over a week or two and then we won't see them again for months.

Giving Zoe a handful of food instantly makes the tremors stop and not return again until the next episode days, weeks, or months later.  Sometimes engaging her in playing tug or fetch will help, but not as well as food does.  Zoe acts completely normal while her head is shaking, and doesn't seem upset by it in the least.  She does, however, know that it is happening.  By now she knows the routine, and as soon as her head starts shaking she will come up to one of us to get our attention and then dash off to the cabinet where her food is stored, waiting to get fed.

So, if a google search has brought you here looking for information because your dog has been diagnosed with idiopathic head tremors, please rest assured that there are other dogs with the same condition who are living normal, happy, healthy lives.  If you need reassurance, you can find tons of photos of Zoe looking happy and spoiled all throughout my blog! :)

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area. Visit Michele's website at Become a fan of Michele's work on Facebook. Follow Michele's updates on Twitter.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this article. My 5yr. old greyhound was just diagnosed with IHT. I found your article to be very comforting in this disturbing, stressful and confusing time. Food definately reboots something in Hartley's brain causing the tremor to stop. I worry that I won't be home when it strikes leaving poor Hart to fend for himself. Anyway, thank you for sharing this important info and for reducing our stress level greatly. You are an angel!

  2. Thank you so much for this. Our bulldog, Poindexter, has just been diagnosed with IHT as well. I was terrified the first time it happened but with more research and postings like this one about other pups living happily and healthily with IHT makes me feel at ease. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and so pleased to see Zoe's disposition isn't effected by this! :)

  3. ask veterinarians about vitamin b1 in high doses. Symptoms disappear. Unfortunately, without supplementation appear again

  4. I thank you so much for this. My one year old lab started with symptoms and I have been a mess for the last week. After a few vet visits and a lot of research on my part, everything seems to check out for idiopathic head tremors. Thanks for your tips, I so appreciate it.

  5. Thank you so much for posting this. My almost three year old boxer got diagnosed last night and it was SCARY! I've been obviously Googling idiopathic head tremors galore since his diagnosis and I'm glad it brought me here. Yours is the first article that gives me hope that he won't have to deal with this on a daily basis. Most articles just say the tremors happen, but they don't say how often they happen. Thanks for the reassurance that it may only happen in clusters and then go away for a while.