When you see your dog shaking for no clear reason, it can be very upsetting and scary. Especially if it is quite severe and accompanied by other worrying behaviours.
Dogs shake for many different reasons. These can include over-excitement, the need to vomit, feeling cold, old age, confusion, fear and pain.
Sometimes it can be something quite harmless and just a way to relieve an upset stomach or release some energy. But it is important to understand what is causing them to shake or shiver as it could also mean something far more serious is going on with them.
What Could Be Making Your Dog Shake?
In order to determine whether to be concerned or not, it is useful to know the top reasons why a dog would shake. Understanding the most common causes can go a long way to preventing any unnecessary trips to the vets or, conversely, reacting quickly enough to save their life.
The severity of the shaking, environmental factors, and accompanying symptoms will all help to identify the probable cause and allow you to act accordingly. With many people I talk to, I find that just having the basic knowledge of triggers has helped them to remain calm and in control in response to shaking behaviour.
This is beneficial for both them and their dog.
DISCLAIMER: If in doubt, consult a veterinarian.
My advice (as always) with any sudden and severe change in your dog’s behaviour like continued or violent shaking, is to seek veterinarian advice. Immediate medical attention should be sought out if other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive saliva and loss of balance are also present.
Feeling the Cold
A very obvious reason for a dog shaking or shivering is that they are cold. Like us, a dog’s body will shiver to stay warm.
If you see that your dog is shaking or shivering in cooler months of the year, in air-conditioned environments, or when outside in brisk winds, invest in a jumper or coat for them. Some breeds are more susceptible to the cold than others.
The Italian Greyhound is well known for feeling the cold and needs an extra layer even in warmish temperatures. As dogs age, they also tend to feel both the heat and cold more.
We should take care of our dogs as they hit their senior years. Remember to take a fleece coat or comfy blanket when out and about and provide extra bedding when indoors, especially at night when the heating tends to be off or turned down low.
Anxiety & Fear
Anxiety is a response to stress. It is the fearful anticipation that something frightening is about to happen.
Anxiety can manifest in different ways. It usually starts when dogs recognise triggers such as putting on a jacket to leave the house if a dog is fearful of being left alone.
Or when they hear something they associate with something scary. However, it can also be a constant state of mind if a dog is constantly afraid of their environment.
When anxiety occurs, a dog’s brain will send signals to release certain chemicals and hormones into the body to help respond to a perceived threat. The fight or flight mode is in response to anxiety and fear.
Two of the most commonly recognised of these hormones are adrenaline and cortisol. In small doses, these two chemicals do as they are designed and help a dog handle a frightening situation.
When a dog is scared and anxious for a prolonged period and not burning through the adrenaline or cortisol such as when they flee or defend themselves, these chemicals build up and need to be released in other ways. One of these ways is to shake, tremble and shiver.
I recently worked with a Terrier-Poodle mix called Pipoca. He was adopted from a shelter in the Czech Republic and rehomed with a very lovely couple.
We did a lot of work to build his confidence and his trust and help him settle into a domestic household. It all went well until the owners placed him into a Dog Hotel while they took a week-long vacation.
Pipoca had been to doggy daycare at the same centre and had enjoyed his time there but when they brought him home after their vacation he shook and whined constantly for 3 days. He was stressed, anxious and fearful.
His behaviour was actually worse than the first time they brought him home. It was heart-breaking for them to see.
However, after a few days getting back into their routine he was fine and is thankfully back to the same happy chappy he was before the holiday. It was an extreme reaction to leaving the centre or being unsettled while his owners were away but he just needed time for his anxiety levels to drop.
If you are worried about your dog’s behaviour, it is always a good idea to get an expert’s opinion. It helps to understand what your dog is feeling and how you should then respond to it. My advice for Pipoca’s parents was to get him back into his routine and stick to how life was life before you left. They asked if they should invite Pipoca to sleep in their room until he was better. While this was a very kind and caring reaction, one of the things we had worked on initially was encouraging Pipoca to sleep in a different room as there was a baby on the way and he made a lot of noise at night. If they allowed him back into the room, it would have been harder for him in the long run (as this would have become a consolatory comfort to him) when they eventually wanted him to sleep in his room again.
Similar to anxiety, when a dog gets extremely excited the brain signals the body to release certain chemicals and hormones. Excitement is a state of arousal.
Their heart rate will increase, pumping blood around the body and along with it the chemicals and hormones, creating a surge of energy. A lot of dogs release this energy by moving, wiggling around, wagging their tail, jumping up and humping.
These are all common behaviours we see dogs act out when excited but not as well known is to shake or tremble. This typically happens when a dog is static or being held.
It can be hard to recognise anxiety shaking vs excitement shaking. This is where knowing your dog and looking for other signs can help.
The eyes always tend to be a big give away. If your dog looks like a deer in headlights, they are more likely to be feeling overwhelmed and fearful.
However, if their eyes are big and bright and happy looking, then I would say that excitement is the reason behind it. All dog owners will learn to spot their dog’s tell-tale signs and reactions and understand their feelings, but if you are concerned contact a professional for help and guidance.
Illness, Injury or Pain
Shaking or muscle tremors can be a sign of illness or pain. There are many infections, diseases and conditions that will cause a dog’s body to shake. Canine distemper, diabetes or hypoglycemia, tumours, heartworm and Addison’s disease to name a few.
If your dog has started shaking for a prolonged amount of time or intermittently without any obvious environmental changes, such as meeting the cold, returning from a dog hotel, or something exciting happening, then it is time to seek veterinarian advice.
If it is continuous and your dog looks worried, seek advice immediately. If it occurs less frequently, it is worth noting down some points of information you can then discuss with your vet. Things such as:
- at what time of the day it happened/s
- what preceded it (exercise/eating/drinking/sleeping)
- do other symptoms occur alongside it,
- does your dog look to be in pain or worried,
- has your dog become uncharacteristically aggressive.
Making a note of these can really help a veterinarian when they are trying to diagnose.
Sickness, Vomiting and Diarrhoea
Some dogs have cast-iron guts and others are super sensitive. But at some point, your dog will likely get an upset stomach and vomit.
The odd bout of sickness isn’t usually something that should cause concern. Most of the time the dog will vomit up whatever is irritating their stomach and carry on with their day.
If your dog’s vomiting is accompanied by shaking or trembling, a closer inspection might be needed. Although this might be a bit grim, it is worth taking a look at the vomit.
A one-time vomit that clearly contains partially digested food is usually a good sign and the shaking is likely to stop once the food has been expelled. However, if your dog is struggling to keep food down for longer than 24hrs, is vomiting coloured bile, or the vomit contains blood you should visit the veterinarians.
There are certain foods and plants that are poisonous to dogs and the symptoms following digestion of them can range from shaking to vomiting to seizures. If you can see that your dog has ingested chocolate (especially dark or high percentage chocolates), cocoa powder, onions or garlic, grapes, raisins or sultanas, mouldy cheeses, corn on the cob (mainly the cob bit), lilies or daffodils heads, caffeine, alcohol, or medications, and is shaking or retching uncontrollably, seek veterinary attention immediately.
Prolonged bouts of diarrhoea are also a concern, especially accompanied by shaking, shivering or trembling. If your dog goes longer than 24hrs with severe diarrhoea, they will be losing a lot of fluids. A simple meal of rice and boiled chicken should fix an upset stomach by the next morning. But if your dog’s poop still hasn’t improved, it is always worth a visit to the vets for a check-up.
As our dogs become senior citizens their health starts to decline and they are at risk of developing disorders often associated with shaking or trembling. Cognitive deterioration can lead to permanent shaking while other diseases can leave our dogs with muscle spasms, in pain and unable to control shaking.
Whilst the decline can often not be reversed, there are certainly a lot of amazing medications on the market that can help ease the symptoms. Talk with your veterinarian for a diagnosis and what is available to help manage your dog’s illness.
If your dog is suffering from cancer, tumours, or other abnormal growths of tissue that are not seen to the naked eye, shaking can be an early sign that you should get your dog in for an MOT. Early intervention goes a long way to full recovery for a longer, happier life.
Concerns, Questions or Feedback
If you are concerned about your dog or have any questions about the information provided above please feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly on email: firstname.lastname@example.org or via the contact form.
I always like to hear from my readers and will post questions and answers that could be helpful to everyone.