What to Do When Your Dog Constantly Rubs Its Face

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If you pay attention, you will likely find yourself rubbing your eyes or scratching your head, nose, ears, and face throughout the day. Similarly, you might notice your dog rubbing its face with its paws or across walls, furniture, carpet, the ground, or even on you.

dog rubbing face

Why Is Your Dog Rubbing Its Face?

Some kind of annoyance, itch, pain, or just because it feels good are all reasons why a dog might be rubbing its face.

Common reasons for a dog rubbing its face include:

Face rubbing is normal behavior and usually nothing to worry about, but if it seems your dog is constantly rubbing its face, there may actually be an underlying health issue to address.

For example, a rare, but serious neurological condition known as Chiari-like malformation can cause excessive rubbing at the face in dogs, and if you have a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, it more than likely has it!

king cavalier neuro exam

Chiari-like Malformation Can Cause Dog Face Rubbing

Chiari-like malformation (CM) is a hereditary neurological condition characterized by unusual bone growth in the back of the skull, resulting in a skull that’s too small for the brain and affecting the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. This can cause a secondary condition known as syringomyelia, in which fluid-filled cysts form and expand within the spinal cord, ultimately destroying its center.

The most obvious sign of CM is neuropathic pain, or the abnormal processing of sensory input by the nervous system. This altered sensation is why you might find your dog constantly rubbing its face or scratching at the ears, neck, or air to no avail.

Additional Symptoms of Chiari-like Malformation in Dogs

Chiari-like malformation can occur in any dog, but it is generally seen in small and toy breeds. It is most common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Brussels Griffons. In fact, almost all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have CM, even though not all dogs will show signs.

Symptoms that may occur if your dog has Chiari-like malformation include:

  • Rubbing at the face
  • Scratching at the ears, neck, or head
  • Phantom scratching (scratching without making contact)
  • Sensitivity around the back of the neck and shoulders
  • Painful when excited, passing stool, or even wearing a collar
  • Changes in behavior
  • Limb weakness and poor coordination
  • Scoliosis (curvature of the spine)

Treating Chiari-like Malformation to Ease Dog Face Rubbing

The diagnosis of CM as the cause of dog face rubbing is only proven via Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). An MRI will also rule out other conditions with similar symptoms in dogs.

dog getting mri

Surgery is the treatment of choice for progressive cases, with some studies showing over 80% of patients maintaining an improved quality of life in the long term. The operation involves removing the malformed bone in the back of the skull to make more space for cerebrospinal fluid to flow through.

Prognosis of Chiari-like Malformation

Chiari-like malformation is a congenital (present at birth) disease that cannot be prevented or cured. However, through early diagnosis, progression of the disease can be slowed, pet parents can be better prepared, and passing on the genetic trait to future generations can be stopped via selective breeding.

At Southeast Veterinary Neurology, we offer a discounted screening package for asymptomatic at-risk breeds in order to identify CM as early as possible. This will help provide the best achievable outcome for your dog. Advanced screening is also useful to determine whether or not a dog should be bred and, if so, what a suitable mate’s results should look like.

What to Do if Your Dog Won’t Stop Rubbing Its Face

If your dog is rubbing its face excessively, please visit your veterinarian to rule out some of the more common possibilities listed at the beginning of this article that may need medical attention.

However, if your dog is showing other Chiari-like malformation symptoms or if you have an at-risk breed, please contact us right away. Although CM cannot be cured, a highly specialized veterinary neurologist may be able to add years to your dog’s life.

dog being treated at SEVN

Schedule your dog’s visit with a highly specialized veterinary neurologist at Southeast Veterinary Neurology today by calling any of our Miami, Boynton Beach, Jupiter or Virginia Beach, VA locations, open 24/7.

Whatever the cause, there is veterinary help for your dog’s face rubbing.