Torticollis In Dogs

Dogs can develop torticollis after sleeping near a draft.
Janie Airey/Lifesize/Getty Images

Torticollis, otherwise known as wryneck, is a general condition affecting a number of vertebrates, including humans and dogs. Any condition where the head or neck is tilted may be referred to as torticollis. In some cases, the condition is temporary, in others it will persist until treatment is administered. Causes and severity may vary.

Characterization: Involuntary Reaction

A dog suffering from torticollis may appear to be tilting his head voluntarily to the side. However, torticollis is an involuntary reaction to discomfort, disorientation or injury. The unusual and distinctive tilting head position typically is consistent, rather than intermittent, although periods of relief may occur where your dog appears to be fine.

Symptoms: Tilted Head

The defining symptom of canine torticollis is the tilted head. Accompanying symptoms include a strained neck, which appears strained to one side, disorientation, head and neck immobility and generalized pain. Depending on the cause, dogs with torticollis also may exhibit poor balance, erratic eye movement and circling.

Causes: Poor Sleep

Torticollis can be the result of a bad night’s sleep, where the neck remains stiff for a few hours or days, before returning to normal. Temporary torticollis may be the result of general stiffness of the neck due to a cold draft. In some cases, sufferers are born with torticollis due to neck trauma during birth. It may be symptomatic of a number of serious conditions, including brain disease, inner ear disease, poisoning, parasitic infestation and most commonly vestibular disease, whereby the dog’s system of balance is out of whack, causing him to tilt his head to right himself.

Treatments: Heat and Relaxation

Your veterinarian will recommend a treatment based on the cause of the torticollis. For a dog suffering a general stiff neck, heat and relaxation will help. Massage and mild physiotherapy may be beneficial for dogs with persistent muscular pain in the neck. If the torticollis is due to an inner ear infection, your vet most likely will prescribe a course of antibiotics. For more serious conditions in which torticollis is one of many symptoms, drugs may be required to treat the underlying causes, for example parasitic infestations and canine vestibular disease. Your vet also may prescribe motion sickness medication to treat vestibular disease, which in time will correct the torticollis.