Why Is My Dog Shaking?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM July 17, 2020
Whether it’s a barely noticeable tremor or a full body shiver, anytime a dog shakes, it’s something to pay attention to. There are many different situations that will cause a dog to shake. Since dogs can’t tell you the problem directly, shaking is often their way of communicating to you how they are feeling. The reason behind why a dog may be shaking is often not easily understood. So let’s look at some of the reasons that a dog may shake, and when you need to take action.
Why Is My Dog Shaking?
Dogs may shake due to excitement, pain, cold, illness, or even as simple as being wet. Sometimes shaking is not a problem, but at other times it can mean that something is wrong. Any new shaking or extended periods of shaking should be looked at by a veterinarian.
Some common reasons that a dog may shake include:
Some dogs can literally shake with excitement. They may also bark, wag their tail, and even urinate. Sometimes this kind of shaking is outgrown, otherwise you can try to train your dog out of it by not giving them any attention until they’ve calmed down and relaxed.
- Stress, Fear, or Anxiety
Similar to humans, when dogs are stressed, scared, or anxious, their body reacts by activating the fight or flight response. Part of that response is due to muscle trembling in order to prepare it for possible activity. You may find this type of shaking following a car ride, veterinarian visit, or when unexpected company arrives.
Sudden pain due to an injury or chronic pain due to arthritis or another long-term inflammatory condition can cause a dog to shake. It may be more noticeable after using the injured site or when first waking up in the morning. You may also see lameness, unwillingness to use the hurt body part, or not wanting to move at all.
Your dog’s shaking may be due to the temperature. Shaking creates muscle movement that generates heat in an effort to warm up a pup that is feeling cold. Obviously, this one would be more common in short or thin-haired dogs, like Chihuahuas, and occur more when the weather is cold.
Specific diseases, like distemper, can cause shaking due to issues with the musculature or the nervous system. Other diseases, like diabetes, can cause shaking due to an imbalance in blood sugar, hormones, or other important mediators.
Of course, it’s important to differentiate shaking from seizure activity as the two can sometimes look very similar. With a seizure, the dog often collapses, drools, and is unresponsive to your voice or touch.
A dog may also shake anytime they’re feeling poorly. Anything from nausea to a headache can cause shaking either out of pain or even fear or confusion as to what is going on.
Several toxins can cause shaking in dogs. These include chocolate, xylitol, nicotine, and certain molluscicides (snail baits). The shaking may also come with some drooling, weakness, vomiting, and seizures as well.
- Old Age
Shaking in older pups can be a sign of pain, but may also be associated with muscle weakness, neurological disorders, or other health conditions, like kidney disease.
When Is Shaking A Cause For Concern?
Sometimes shaking is no big deal because it just means your dog needs a warm snuggle or a comforting pet. At other times, it can mean an emergency trip to the veterinarian’s office. Shaking is a concern if you know or suspect that your pup ingested a toxic substance. Most toxins that bring on shaking need to be treated right away to prevent permanent damage.
Another cause for concern is shaking that happens suddenly with no real explanation. Sudden causes of shaking could be from an injury, toxin, or illness. For example, this means the shaking is not due to the neighbor’s dog barking and stressing out your dog or you offering your dog too tasty of a treat that brings on excitement and shaking.
Lastly, chronic shaking should also be looked into. Simply writing off your senior dog’s trembling as old age may mean that you’re overlooking some pain or other disease that is occurring.
Specific Situations When Your Dog Shakes
Even with the list of possible causes for shaking in dogs mentioned previously, it’s important to look into specific instances that a dog would shake coupled with some other observations. This way, you know how serious the situation is.
- Shaking and panting
These two together will often indicate discomfort of some kind. It may be physical discomfort due to pain or illness, or social/emotional discomfort due to stress, fear or anxiety.
- Shaking and throwing up
Anything that affects the stomach can lead to shaking and throwing up. This could mean eating something disagreeable, like rotten meat, garbage, a toxin, or it may be due to a gastrointestinal (GI) bug.
- Shaking and limping
Limping is nearly always associated with pain due to injury or arthritis. Shaking is just another manifestation of that pain. Chronic limping and shaking is most likely due to arthritis as oppose to sudden limping which is most likely due to sprains, strains, fractures, or bruises.
- Shaking after a bath
Shaking after a bath helps remove excess water and hair. It is also a dog’s way to help themselves dry off quicker. In addition, shaking after a bath may be due to having water in their ears that needs to be expunged. While this shaking usually only involves the head, it can sometimes cause a full-body response.
Shaking after a bath may also be due to being cold. You’ll be able to tell the difference between trying to get dry from being cold by the type of shaking. Drying off shaking is a vigorous, everything moves, side-to-side kind of shake, while shaking from being cold resemble smaller trembling movements.
- Shaking and lethargic
Lethargy is a sign of many different issues. Even when you pair it with shaking, most dog parents will still be in the dark without further diagnostics. With that in mind, lethargy is usually an indication that your pup isn’t feeling well. Look for other symptoms, like vomiting, diarrhea, or fever for further diagnosis.
What Can I Do To Help My Shaking Dog?
You’ll better be able to help keep your dog from shaking if you know the reason behind the shaking in the first place. If you are lucky enough to be with your dog when the shaking starts, then you will know what lead up to it. If not, you’ll have some investigation to do. Below is a list of things you can do at home to investigate further.
- Shaking due to cold temperature
For dogs that are cold, warm them up! This can be done by bringing them inside, drying them off, getting them a coat or blanket, or snuggling them up by the heater. Try to do so gradually so that you don’t overheat them.
- Shaking due to being nervous or scared
For dogs that are nervous or scared, help calm them down by providing them with a quiet ‘safe spot’ to relax. For unavoidable stresses, like visiting the veterinarian, try to comfort them as much as you can with touch or a soothing voice. Then get them somewhere more comfortable as soon as you can.
- Shaking due to excitement
If your dog is so excited to see you or their dinner that it causes them to shake, then calm them down by not rewarding the behavior. Of course, you don’t want to decrease your dog’s enthusiasm, but sometimes the shaking can be a little too much. Don’t greet, pet or feed your happy shaker until they’ve had a chance to calm down.
Sometimes your dog’s shaking is going to need a professional hand to quiet it.
- Shaking due to sickness or injury
If your dog is sick or injured, seek your veterinarian’s help. Some disease symptoms may overlap with symptoms that don’t seem like a big deal. But if your pup is showing any other symptoms besides shaking, such as vomiting, lameness, or fever, please see your veterinarian.
- Shaking due to toxin
If ingesting a toxin is anywhere on your list of possible causes for your dog’s shaking, then don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian. Again, these toxins can be a big problem and immediate veterinary care may be the difference between life and permanent damage or even death.
Shaking, quivering, or trembling is something that you may see from time to time in your furry friend. Sometimes it may be due to a strange noise that has them on the alert, or it may be due to a lurking disease condition. If your dog’s shaking is a new behavior or an old one that just won’t stop, then it is best to see your veterinarian. Plus don’t be afraid to mention your dog’s shaking to your vet anytime you’re concerned.