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Why is My Dog Trembling? 10 Common Causes
Do you sometimes notice your dog trembling or shaking? Not the usual shake after a swim in the lake or because of itchy ears. I’m talking about a fine muscular tremor affecting just one leg or the entire body.
It can be very worrying to see your dog suddenly trembling. Sometimes the cause is quite clear: it is winter, and they are cold, or they are anxiously waiting at the vet’s office. But other times the reason for the trembling is not so obvious.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the most common reasons dogs tremble and what you can do.
10 Common Reasons Why Dogs Tremble
If you’re like many pet parents, you find yourself sitting next to a trembling mess at the vet’s office. Maybe your fur baby begins trembling during a thunderstorm or when there are fireworks. Fear is one of the biggest reasons a dog may tremble.
If you find your dog tends to be fearful or anxious around loud noises or trips to the groomer, speak to your vet about anti-anxiety medication to help put them at ease.
We should also remember that dogs pick up on our human emotions very easily and tend to mimic them. If you are feeling stressed and anxious, try being calmer around your dog, which may help them to feel more relaxed.
When dogs are cold, they shiver just like people. The act of shivering forces muscular activity that then raises body temperature. Some shorthaired dogs, like Whippets and Greyhounds, are particularly susceptible to cold weather.
If you have a shorthaired dog and live in colder climates, consider getting your pup a dog coat for the fall and winter months. You’ll want to be sure to measure your dog accurately and select a coat that fits his exact measurements. Also, use common sense during the winter months. Taking your dog for a walk when the temperatures are in the 30s is fine. Any lower and your dog may be in danger of frostbite on her paws and nose.
3. Pain and Illness
Dogs often tremble when they are experiencing pain. It is believed this happens for two reasons:
1) Our fur babies don’t understand pain, so when they experience it, they become frightened and anxious and begin trembling with fear. In addition, it’s believed that trembling somehow “dulls” the sensation of pain by confusing the tiny radius of pain receptors in the skin. Humans do something similar when we get hurt. We may bump our knee on the table leg and immediately start moving another part of our body – our arm, for instance – to take our mind off the knee pain.
Dogs also tremble when they feel sick. The following are some common illnesses that may cause your dog to shake uncontrollably:
When our dogs suffer from an upset stomach, they often will tremble as an initial reaction. Dogs like to get into things they shouldn’t, so perhaps they have eaten something spoiled or overindulged in that pie you accidentally left on the counter last night. Dogs sometimes tremble after consuming something that triggers an allergic reaction.
And speaking of getting into things they shouldn’t, sadly, many dogs each year ingest something highly toxic to them. Not only are harsh household cleaners harmful to our fur babies, but so are some common household plants and human foods. Should your dog eat grapes, chocolate, or onions, it can be extremely dangerous and cause them to tremble, vomit and have diarrhea. In these situations, you should bring your dog to the vet immediately. If your vet is closed, take them to an emergency clinic.
Distemper is a highly contagious viral disease easily transmitted from one unvaccinated dog to another. Some of the most common signs of distemper are uncontrollable trembling and seizures. Other symptoms may include vomiting, coughing, fever, and diarrhea.
Generalized Tremor Syndrome
This disorder is hereditary and generally affects small-breed white dogs such as the Maltese, West Highland White Terrier, and Poodle. The condition affects the nervous system and causes full-body shaking.
The condition starts suddenly and often when a dog is young, between the ages of 1 and 4. The symptoms typically worsen over a few days and then stabilize.
In addition to trembling and shaking, other signs include:
- Balance problems
- Head tilt
- Walking with a sway
The condition is believed to be a form of immune-mediated disease. In autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system attacks its tissues. In this case, the attack is on the brain’s tissue, resulting in a mild form of encephalitis.
Dogs with Shaker Syndrome are usually treated with a high dose of steroids to reduce brain inflammation and switch off that immune response.
Other Causes of Pain and Trembling
Fever, kidney disease, brain disease, heart problems, and seizure disorders are all potential causes of trembling.
If your dog is trembling and showing any other signs of pain or illness, make an appointment with your vet ASAP to get your fur baby checked out.
4. Partial or Focal Seizures
Some dogs develop erratic electrical activity in the brain that triggers a localized seizure. In ‘regular’ episodes, the entire body will shake, and the dog will often go unconscious and lose control of its bladder and/or bowel. But with this disorder, the seizure is restricted to one part of their anatomy.
A typical sign of this disorder is when a dog plays “air guitar” with just one of its legs. They cannot stop shaking their leg, no matter how much you try to distract them. Other dogs may have uncontrollable twitching of one part of their body, such as an ear or whiskers.
These focal seizures come and go. If you think your pup may be experiencing these, try and record a video of an event to show to your vet, who can make a diagnosis.
5. Low Blood Glucose
Have you ever been so hungry that you started feeling a bit shaky? If so, you were most likely experiencing low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia. Dogs can also experience low blood sugar, which causes them to shake or tremble.
Low blood sugar affects two types of dogs: Small (teacup) breeds and diabetic dogs.
Tiny dogs, such as teacup chihuahuas, have low reserves of sugar. If they skip a meal or two, their body quickly burns through these reserves, becoming hypoglycemic.
Diabetic dogs can sometimes become hypoglycemic if there is a mismatch between the amount of insulin given and the amount of food they eat. Suppose a high level of insulin is given, and not enough carbohydrates are eaten. In that case, there will be an excess of insulin and not enough glucose in the bloodstream.
6. Low Blood Calcium Levels
Although rare, trembling and shaking can occur when a dog’s calcium levels become too low. Calcium is an essential mineral for muscular contraction. When levels get low, the result is erratic muscular activity.
Nursing mother dogs can sometimes experience trembling due to low calcium levels. When her puppies are about 3-4 weeks old, they require more and more nutrition, often taking the nutrition (and calcium) away from the mother through her milk.
7. Addison’s Disease
When a body – human or canine – cannot make enough of the stress hormone cortisol, it develops a condition known as Addison’s Disease. This disease comes with many rather vague symptoms, including general unwellness, muscle weakness and trembling, and diarrhea. These symptoms tend to come and go but progressively worsen over time.
This condition generally presents when dogs are young but can occur when a dog of any age on steroids suddenly stops taking their medication. Muscle weakness and twitching may result in the dog having difficulty jumping onto the sofa.
8. Old Dog Tremors
Old dogs, like older people, can have tremors. And in the case of canines, we’re still learning why they occur. Nerves do have a protective layer around them, like how electrical wires have insulation around them. It’s believed that this protective sheath may begin to thin in old dogs, like older people, leading to the nerves misfiring.
Some dogs shiver and tremble when they are super happy and excited. This happy shiver could happen when they see their best doggy pal at the park or when their human comes home after being away for a few days. No one really knows why this happens, but if your dog shakes when he’s happy, there’s no reason to worry. It typically stops once he calms down.
10. Seeking Attention
Some dogs are pretty darn smart, and they learn when they shake (from the cold or anxiety), they get extra special attention from their human. Over time, these dogs may “turn on the shakes” to get affection or a treat.
While “faking it” isn’t exactly concerning behavior, reinforcing it isn’t necessarily a good idea either. If you’re confident there is no other reason your dog may be shivering; it’s best to ignore their blatant attempts to pull on your heartstrings. Of course, always check to make sure they haven’t gotten into something they shouldn’t have before dismissing it. Once your dog has calmed and stopped shaking, you can approach them again.
Do this enough times, and your little Academy Award winner will recognize his acting is no longer working and should stop doing it.
Your Dog Needs a Restroom!
Many dogs will start to tremble if they’ve been holding their bladder or bowel for a long time. You may notice this if you take your dog on any car trips. You look in the rearview mirror to see your pup trembling in the backseat and realize you haven’t stopped driving for 4 hours!
If you or someone in your family cannot be home all day, it’s important you have something set up to help your dog relieve himself. This could be having wee-wee pads down, a doggy door to a fenced-in outside area, or hiring a dog walker.
These are the most common reasons why your dog may tremble. As you can see, some reasons are relatively benign, while others point to something more serious. It is always best to err on the side of caution and bring your dog to the vet if you aren’t exactly sure what’s happening.
Pet Insurance Can Help You Handle Unexpected Vet Bills
It’s heartbreaking and scary when our fur babies become ill. What can make matters worse is an expensive vet bill that could put us into debt.
Getting help with those costly vet bills is exactly why we started this website. We are pet parents just like you, who believe keeping our pets healthy should be affordable. And that’s why we work to educate consumers on the many benefits of pet insurance.
Did you know that some pet insurance plans can reimburse you for up to 90% of the vet bill?
If you ever worry about what you’ll do if your fur baby is faced with an unexpected illness or injury, consider enrolling them in an affordable pet insurance plan and get peace of mind. Your pet (and your wallet) will thank you. Get a free pet insurance quote today!
- Retrieved from Fetch by PetsMD: https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/my-dog-shivering-trembling
- Fitzgerald, K. DVM., “How to Know When Your Dog Is in Pain”, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/how-to-tell-when-dog-is-in-pain/
- Stregowski, J., “Human Foods That Are Toxic to Dogs”, https://www.thesprucepets.com/foods-that-are-toxic-to-dogs-1117869
- Bagley RS: 1992. Tremor syndromes in dogs: Diagnosis and treatment. J Small An Med 33: 485-589.
- Barnette, C., DVM, “Focal Seizures and Fly-Biting in Dogs,” https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/focal-seizures-and-fly-biting-in-dogs
- Grzyb, K., DVM, “Addison’s Disease in Dogs,” https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/endocrine/c_dg_hypoadrenocorticism
The information contained on this blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet's health care or treatment plan.
The authors of this blog are not veterinarians and do not claim to be experts in pet health. The information provided here is based on our own experiences and research, as well as information from reputable sources. However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information.
We encourage you to do your own research and consult with your veterinarian before making any decisions about your pet's health.