All dogs love a good shake from time to time! But if you’ve noticed your dog shaking or trembling more than usual, or without obvious explanation, you may well be worried. You’ve probably been asking the question “should I be worried if my dog is shaking?”. Let’s take a look at some possible causes of shaking in dogs.
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What can cause shaking in dogs?
Occasional shaking may be nothing to worry about. Just like us, dogs can shake when they’re cold, scared, or even excited! There are, however, some more serious causes of shaking in dogs that we should be aware of. Here are some of the common causes of dogs trembling or shaking:
Most dogs are scared of something, whether it’s fireworks, thunderstorms, or the postman! Although these fears are common and not too concerning, they do need to be addressed.
If you believe that your dog is shaking due to anxiety or fear frequently, or with no obvious trigger, then they may have a more generalized anxiety disorder, or there may be an underlying medical condition.
Some dogs, especially young dogs, are very excitable! Shaking with excitement is not uncommon. It is usually obvious that excitement is causing the tremble, and it passes just as quickly as it started.
Dogs shiver from the cold just as we do! Especially if they are a small breed, are very slim, or have a thin coat. Dogs will also have a good shake when they get wet, as I’m sure most of our furniture has witnessed!
Just like us, dogs can shake when they’re cold, scared, or even excited!
There are also various medical reasons for a dog to shake or tremble, some more serious than others. While not an exhaustive list, some possible medical causes include:
Pain can cause a dog to shake, sometimes just in the area that is painful, sometimes the whole body. Dogs can be pretty stoic creatures, so the signs of pain can be subtle. Your vet will be able to assess for pain, rule out other medical conditions, and may trial some pain relief to be sure that pain is the cause.
- Muscle weakness
Older dogs may tremble in their legs, and this can be a sign of weakness. Young dogs recovering from an injury may also experience this. However, it’s impossible to tell whether your dog is shaking from weakness or whether it’s from pain, so a check-up with your veterinarian is really important. If muscle weakness is the cause, then your veterinarian can refer you for physiotherapy and/or hydrotherapy.
Some poisons can cause shaking in dogs. Common examples include caffeine, slug pellets, and rat poison. Many foods and substances that are harmless to humans are actually toxic to dogs, so it’s important to be aware of common dog poisons. If your dog has eaten something which you believe to be poisonous, you should always treat this as an emergency and call your veterinary clinic straight away.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced that flu-like feeling; trembling with cold despite having a high temperature. Well, dogs can shake with a fever too! They may be showing other symptoms at the same time, such as lethargy (drowsiness), lack of appetite, sickness, or diarrhea. If you suspect your dog has a fever, then you should call your veterinarian for an appointment.
- Generalized tremor syndrome
Also known as Shaker Syndrome, this condition is usually seen in white, small-breed dogs such as West Highland White Terriers. The condition usually starts at a young age and may cause generalized (whole-body) or more localized tremors. The exact cause isn’t yet known. Only a veterinarian can diagnose this condition, usually by excluding other possible causes.
- Brain disease
Some conditions affecting the brain can cause shaking, tremors, or even seizures. There are too many to mention, but your veterinarian will let you know if they suspect this.
Luckily, we can vaccinate against this nasty disease! Distemper is caused by a virus and can lead to a wide range of symptoms. Sadly, it is often fatal, so keeping your dog up to date with their vaccinations really is important!
- Hypoadrenocorticism (an underactive adrenal gland)
Also known as Addison’s disease, this causes the steroid hormones in the body to drop to a very low level. The signs are non-specific, such as reduced appetite, weakness, and trembling. Addison’s is fatal if it isn’t treated, so if your dog just isn’t quite themselves and you aren’t sure why, take them for a veterinary check-up to be on the safe side.
It can be hard to tell the difference between a tremor and a partial seizure. Seizures don’t always look like the classic collapse and paddling that we all imagine. Your vet can perform a neurological examination, blood work, and some imaging if they suspect seizures.
It’s impossible to tell whether your dog is shaking from weakness or whether it’s from pain, so a check-up with your veterinarian is really important.
What should I do if my dog is shaking? When to contact a vet
Should I be worried if my dog is shaking? This will really depend on the cause. If your dog occasionally shakes with excitement or shivers in the cold, then this isn’t usually anything to worry about. However, if your dog starts shaking or shivering when they haven’t in the past, then it’s sensible to take them to your veterinarian for a health check.
For occasional fear-based trembling (such as on firework night), there are lots of positive, reward-based exercises you can try to help them combat their fear, alongside calming measures such as pheromone plug-ins. If you think your dog is shaking from fear regularly, or with no obvious trigger, then it’s time for a veterinary assessment. Your veterinarian can rule out medical problems, before referring you to a clinical behaviorist.
If your dog seems to be affected by the cold, a doggy coat for winter is a good investment!
If your dog is shaking frequently, or infrequently but with no obvious cause, then you must take them for a veterinary check-up. Some medical causes are not immediately obvious, so it’s important to be sure that there is no underlying cause.
If your dog is shaking frequently, or infrequently but with no obvious cause, then you must take them for a veterinary check-up.
Take home message?
It’s usually pretty obvious if your dog has the odd shake when they’re cold or excited. This is natural behavior and usually nothing to worry about! However, if your dog starts shaking with no obvious cause, or frequently, then it’s time to act. The sooner you see your veterinarian, the better.
This will depend on the cause. The odd shake with excitement or shiver in the cold isn’t usually anything to worry about. However, if the shaking is new or frequent, then it’s safest to take your dog for a health check with your veterinarian.
Many causes of shaking in dogs aren’t immediately obvious. This means they may not appear unwell other than the shaking. However, some of the possible medical causes of shaking in dogs can be serious, so it’s important that you book a consult with your veterinarian.