Dog Bobbing Head Around Food Bowl [Explained]

Zack Keithy, our author, is a certified veterinarian technician (UC Blue Ash) for over 6 years (contact him here). The articles written here are based on his expertise and experience, combined with a review by our expert vet reviewers including Dr M. Tarantino. Learn more about us here.

If your dog constantly bobs his head up and down (almost like a horse?) or side to side around its food bowl, you’re probably wondering what’s going on.

Is he sick? Does he have an earache? Is he choking?

It may seem weird because it looks so strange and unnatural, but it’s actually not that uncommon for dogs to bob their heads while they eat.

In fact, the behavior is often habitual and harmless.

If you’ve seen this behavior before in your pup and are still concerned, be sure to read the rest of the article to find out all the reasons and any potential warning signs you should look out for.

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Dear Dog Owner

Why Do Dogs Bob Their Heads Before Eating? 8 Reasons

Why Do Dogs Bob Their Heads Before Eating?

There could be several reasons why your dog is bobbing its head before they eat.

In general, this is quite harmless behavior that you can simply ignore. I think it seems to bother us humans more than them most of the time.

Although this can be a new habit, it is more important to look out for signs of trouble (more on that later).

For now, do read on as I explain the reasons for this behavior.

1. Feeding routine and habit

Dogs are very much creatures of habit and they love routine.

When dogs are used to a certain feeding routine, they may bob their heads before they eat.

This is simply them preparing themselves for the meal ahead of time, just like how we humans do when we are about to take a bite out of our food.

If this behavior only happens immediately before meals and not at any other time during the day, it’s probably just part of his personality!

Doggy says, consider reading this too: Why Do Dogs Lick Their Lips When You Pet Them?

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2. Don’t like the food

Dogs are very sensitive to what they eat and can be picky about their food.

If a dog doesn’t like the taste or texture of something, he may bob his head as a way to refuse it.

This is especially true for puppies, who are still learning about the world around them.

Before you rush out to buy a different brand or type of food, try mixing some of your dog’s favorite treats into his dinner.

Doggy says, you might like this too: Dog Goes Crazy in The Crate? [6 Solutions]

3. Not hungry and wants to bury his food to eat later

Something more telling is if your dog tries to nudge the food bowl with its nose or try to flip it over and bury it.

Many dogs move their food bowls around and this behavior could be due to their instinct to forage.

Some dogs will also take food from the bowl and consume it elsewhere or possibly save it for later.

4. Affected by its collar or tag

If your dog has a collar that is too loose or a tag that is hanging too low, it might be obstructing your dog from eating normally.

This is especially apparent if you are using a metal food bowl.

The impact from the collar or tag causes a vibration that is amplified by the metal bowl and creates an unpleasant dining experience for your doggy.

Be sure to check that this is not the case.

Doggy says, you might like this too: Is It Bad To Keep Dog Ashes At Home? [+ Alternatives]

5. Over-excitement

Some dogs are overly excited about mealtime and this can make them forget what they are doing.

This is more so when you feed your dog while they’re eating, as it can cause them to become disorientated.

You can avoid this by feeding your dog in a separate area and then taking the food away once they have finished eating.

6. Idiopathic head tremors

In more serious cases, your dog might be suffering from idiopathic head tremors.

These are a series of involuntary head and neck muscle spasms that are repetitive and are horizontally directed (as if saying no) or vertically directed (as if saying yes).

In most cases, an episode usually lasts three minutes.

There are some dog breeds that are more predisposed to this condition, such as Boxers, Bulldogs, Frencies, Dobermans, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

Unfortunately, there is no known cause.

Researchers believe that it is a movement disorder that originates from the basal ganglia.

You do not need to be overly worried though, as there is no pain nor any other effects.

Doggy says, consider reading this too: Dog Puts Head on Other Dog’s Neck

7. Heartworm medication

Episodes of head bobbing have occasionally been connected to taking heartworm treatment.

Although there might be a connection, in-depth research doesn’t appear to have been done as of yet to support this as a possibility.

8. Low sugar levels

Head bobbing may occasionally be related to low blood glucose levels.

Dogs that are breastfeeding may experience this because their glucose and calcium levels may be low.

This behavior may also be brought on by hormonal changes, which might make it more obvious during estrus.

If the head bobbing is caused by low glucose levels, applying honey or corn syrup to the dog’s gums should lessen it.

Doggy says, you might like this too: Dog Sticking Bum in Air [7 Reasons]

Other Behaviors to Watch for While Your Dog is Feeding

Bobbing their head during meal times should not be a major cause for concern, but rather, you need to pay attention to any other accompanying signs that your dog might be in trouble.

I would recommend that you film your dog when it is engaging in abnormal behaviors which you can share with a vet if you do go to one.

Here are some of them:

Guarding its food

Do you have more than one dog at home? If you notice that one of your dogs is guarding its food, this could be something you need to correct soon.

One telltale sign is your dog staring at you or another dog when it eats and trying to hide it from others.

Dogs exhibiting this behavior tend to show aggression towards other people or dogs when they approach the food bowl, which can cause some really unpleasant incidents.

Talking to a dog trainer or behaviorist should help.

Signs of fear

If you haven’t noticed, dogs will usually be very eager to tuck into their meal.

However, if your dog cowers or exhibits any other signs of fear while eating, it’s probably not the food that has a problem.

One of the biggest offenders that can frighten a dog is bowls that are made of metal.

While eating, the metallic noise made by their tags or collars striking the food dish is annoying, or your dog feels afraid or uneasy when he sees his reflection in a metallic dish.

If this is a new bowl, they could become uncertain and approach it very cautiously.

Doggy says, consider reading this next: My Dog Keeps Acting Like Something Is Biting Her [Solutions]

Eating non food items

Pica is the term used to describe the persistent chewing and ingestion of non-nutritive materials that do not benefit the animal physically.

Dental issues, gastric blockages, and poisoning are just a few of the health issues that pica can cause.

This condition is caused by nutritional deficiencies, boredom, and anxiety.

Doggy says, consider reading this next: Why is my dog covering food with a blanket?

When is Head Bobbing a Problem for Your Dog?

Not drinking water

If your dog is not drinking water, it could be a sign of an underlying problem such as an inflamed pancreas or diabetes.

It may also be caused by age-related issues that affect their ability to swallow or digest food properly.

Signs of pain

This can present itself in the form of shaking, drooping ears, slumped posture, hostility, irritability, panting or crying excessively, unwillingness to play or exercise, lameness (limping), stiffness after resting, and loss of appetite.

Also, they will become reluctant to let you touch them and will wince or cry, especially if you touch the affected area.

Vision problem

This is usually a sign of cataracts, which are the most common eye disease in older dogs.

Other signs include squinting, sensitivity to light, and cloudy eyes.

Persistent shaking

This could be a sign of an inner ear infection or neurological disorder, such as epilepsy or vestibular disease.

Some other potential causes for tremors include canine distemper and cerebellar hypoplasia.

What Should You Do About Your Dog Bobbing Its Head?

In most cases, nothing at all! It is probably a habit it has picked up, and if it does not affect its quality of life, I don’t think anything needs to be changed.

On the other hand, if you notice any other abnormal behavior, you might need to step in.

Ask yourself, did the behavior surface suddenly? Is he not eating normally? Are there any other unusual behaviors that started around the same time?

These questions will help you determine if your dog needs help.

Also, you can try to change up its food (do so over a period of time; check the guide provided by the food supplier).

And lastly, remember to bring your dog for a yearly check-up that looks into its heart, lungs, teeth, and eyes.

In Conclusion: Dog Bobbing Head Around Food Bowl

If you have a dog who is bobbing his head and shaking it while he eats, there are probably no serious health issues at hand.

The most likely explanation for this behavior is that your dog has simply developed a habit.

If you want to break the bobbing habit, you can try using positive reinforcement such as treats or praise to reward him for not having a head shake when he’s eating.

Otherwise, just leave them alone!

Check out other dog behavior articles such as why do dogs sleep with their bum facing you, how to stop dog from peeing on deck, how to stop my dog from eating worms, and many more on our blog!

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Zack Keithy
Zack Keithy

Hey, I'm Zack, the Chief Editor here. I was formerly a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) for a good 6 years before moving on to greener pastures. Right now, I am still heavily involved in dog parenting duties, and it is my desire to share all our knowledge with fellow dog owners out there! Connect with me on LinkedIn, or read more about Canine Care Central!

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