Q: I have an 11-month-old English bulldog and he recently started having a head tremor. He started to tremor back and forth and it would last one to three minutes and then stop. He seems fine, but when we call him, he gets up and comes to us with his head still bobbing.
It happened a few times in a row one day and then stopped, and then he did it again a few days later. It comes and goes. He seems great otherwise. He had all of his puppy vaccines and leads a very protected life.
A: Tremors or facial movements that are not controlled can be concerning. He should go to your veterinarian for a careful and comprehensive physical examination.
He should get a complete neurological examination, including checking his eyes and pupillary light reflexes. He should have all of his reflexes tested. If no abnormalities are found, then generally he should be checked for the possibility of heavy metal ingestion. An X-ray of his abdomen can usually determine if he has swallowed any metal objects.
Blood testing may need to be done to look for infection, anemia, organ damage from toxin ingestion, thyroid function, and other issues. Distemper virus can cause facial ticks or tremors, but they are generally called “chewing gum seizures” because they look like the dog is frantically chewing gum. A dog that has one of these types of seizures generally is incapable of responding to commands during an episode.
Puppies can also have liver shunts that cause tremors. A shunt is where the blood vessels in the liver are abnormally formed and it causes blood ammonia levels to become too high. The high ammonia levels can cause seizures.
If all these tests are normal, your puppy probably has idiopathic head tremor of bulldogs. This is a condition seen in bulldogs that causes periodic tremors in the head that can be an up-and-down motion or side to side. The dog is generally alert and can be up, lying down, or moving when they occur.
They tend to be benign and not cause any problems. They are not treated with any medication at this time.
Very rarely, a dog may have severe attacks that lead to partial seizure activity and a neurologist should be consulted to properly diagnose these dogs. An MRI may be done in severe cases, and they may even need seizure medications to help control the more severe seizure-like behavior.
Dr. Susan M. Baker received her degree at the University of Florida in 1985 and practices veterinary medicine in Palm Beach County, Florida.