Many dogs tremble or shake, even when it’s not cold outside. This is especially common in small dogs like Chihuahuas. While shivering can be just a normal fact of life for some dogs, it can also be a warning sign that something is amiss. There are many different reasons that your dog could be shaking, ranging from benign to concerning. Whether or not you should seek treatment will depend on the opinion of your vet, but keep in mind that some of the reasons dogs shiver are quite difficult to pin down. Learn the reasons why a dog shakes so you can determine if it's a problem or not.
Eating many different toxins can cause your dog to shake or have seizure activity. Take your dog to the vet and call Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435) right away if your dog has started trembling after eating something. Toxins can cause a medical emergency very quickly, so don’t “wait and see” if you think your dog’s shaking was caused by eating something new.
Many dogs with thin coats or low-fat content, like greyhounds and Dobermans, get cold easily. Even if it’s 50 or 60 degrees F outside, some dogs get chilly. Be especially cautious if it’s humid or rainy, as this makes dogs feel colder.
If your dog’s shaking doesn’t stop once you’ve warmed her up, check with your vet to ensure there’s not something else going on.
Generalized Tremor Syndrome
Some small dogs “just tremble.” Anyone who’s been around a few Chihuahuas or Miniature Pinschers will agree that many of these little dogs tremble a lot. Experts haven’t been able to nail down exactly why, but it could be that small dogs are cold more often, they’re more anxious, or another unknown reason.
Be concerned if the trembling is a new behavior or if it accompanies other changes in your dog’s behavior. If your small dog trembles a lot, especially if it worsens with stress or hinders normal activity, ask your vet about it.
Your vet can assess muscle tone and check for other reasons your dog might be trembling. She may diagnose your dog with Generalized Tremor Syndrome (GTS), which can be treated with corticosteroids.
Sign of Muscle Weakness or Injury
Have you ever exercised so much that your muscles quiver a bit? Or noticed that a pulled muscle vibrates when you move the wrong way? The same can happen to your dogs! Quivering is a common symptom of pain, injury, or weakness.
Check with your vet if shaking is limited to a given area (say, the right hind leg), started after some heavy exercise, or is accompanied by a decrease in activity level. You may notice that the muscle tremor gets worse if you touch the area, attempt to stretch or massage it, or exercise your dog. Many dogs that tremble due to pain or weakness will also appear stressed.
If your dog has ingested a toxin, such as mycotoxin—found in moldy food or garbage—you might notice it shaking or trembling. Other toxins to look out for are metaldehyde (used as a pesticide for snails), insecticides, chocolate, and caffeine.
Fear, Excitement, or Anxiety
Strong emotions can make dogs tremble or shake. If you notice that your dog’s trembling starts and stops in specific situations (like at the vet, when guests are visiting, or on walks), there’s a good chance that there’s an emotional reason for your dog’s shaking. Even if this is caused by excitement instead of fear, it’s a good idea to get help teaching your dog to feel relaxed.
In this case, consider seeing a veterinary behaviorist or Certified Dog Behavior Consultant to learn how to help your dog feel more relaxed in a given situation. It may be best to skip the local obedience trainer since they’re more skilled at teaching commands than changing emotions.
Behavioral medications may be recommended for your dog if it seems like the behavior modification protocols aren’t helping much.
Diseases or Medical Reasons
There are a lot of scary diseases out there that can cause your dog to shake. Distemper, neurological diseases, low blood calcium, toxin exposure, and seizure disorders (as well as many, many more diseases) can all cause shaking in dogs.
Keep careful track of any other changes in your dog’s behavior, activity level, and appetite. Pay close attention to the frequency, odor, appearance, and consistency of your dog’s stool and urine. If your dog’s shaking is relatively new and accompanied by other symptoms, get a full veterinary workup as soon as possible. There may be bloodwork and other tests involved, but it’s worth it for your pup’s health!
While some of the diseases that cause shaking are treatable or manageable, others, like distemper, are very serious and often fatal. Vaccinate your dog to help prevent distemper. Good preventive care can also stave off systemic diseases. The causes of seizure disorders and neurological diseases can be harder to pin down.
Treatment for a shaking dog will vary based on the underlying cause. For a dog that's cold or excited, treatment may be as simple as warming her up or calming her down. If that's not helping, it's probably time to see a vet.
There are a few warning signs that let us know it’s time to go see a vet sooner rather than later. Call your vet right away if:
- Your dog’s shaking is accompanied by other symptoms, like lethargy, anxiety, diarrhea, limping, or vomiting.
- Your dog’s trembling is interfering with normal behavior like playtime or sleeping.
- Your dog starts shivering after ingesting something unusual.
- Your dog appears distressed when he’s shaking. Pay special attention to “calming signals” such as stress panting, lip licking, or ears that are pulled far back.
If your dog is sick or injured, veterinary treatment is required. Your vet may recommend medication, supportive care, rest, massage, or even surgery—all dependent on the underlying cause of your dog's shaking.
The treatment recommended after toxin ingestion can range from inducing vomiting to aggressive veterinary care. Speaking to a poison control center can help you know what to expect.
How to Prevent Shaking in Dogs
Again, the specific prevention will depend on the cause of your dog's shivering. Keeping your dog warm, relaxed, up-to-date on preventive care, well-exercised, and away from toxic "snacks" can all help keep her from shaking. That said, certain breeds or individuals might be more prone to the mysterious "Generalized Tremor Syndrome," which has no known way to prevent it.
It’s important to get help if your dog’s shaking is accompanied by behavior changes, other symptoms, or started after eating something new. While shivering may be as simple as cold or anxiety, it can also be a symptom of serious diseases or toxin exposure.
Why does my dog keep shaking his head?
Head shaking is usually normal; dogs do it to deal with discomfort or itchiness.
Why is my dog shaking and throwing up?
This indicates there is something very wrong with your dog: it could have been poisoned, have an injury, or even be a symptom of kidney disease. Call your emergency veterinarian immediately!
Why is my dog shaking after surgery?
The after-effects of anesthesia include shaking and trembling. If it doesn't resolve after 24 hours, put in a call to your vet.
Shaker Syndrome in Dogs. VCA Animal Hospitals
Testing for Weakness. VCA Animal Hospitals
VCA Hospitals. Signs Your Dog is Stressed and How to Relieve It.
Find a Dog Behavior Consultant. International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
Lowrie, Mark, and Laurent Garosi. Classification of Involuntary Movements in Dogs: Tremors and Twitches. The Veterinary Journal, vol. 214, 2016, pp. 109–116., doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2016.05.011.