“My dog is shaking. What’s wrong with him?” is the kind of question veterinarians dread because trembling has a large number of possible causes in dogs.
Since it is such a nonspecific symptom, there is no way to accurately diagnose the dog in question without a lot more information.
To figure out the cause of a dog shaking uncontrollably, it is important to know when the shaking occurs, any other symptoms the dog has and what parts of the body are trembling.
See the list below to learn more about common causes of shaking in dogs and potential treatments.
EXCITEMENT, FEAR AND ANXIETY
When dogs are fearful, anxious or excited, their adrenal glands release adrenaline to prepare their bodies to escape from or deal with the situation causing the excitement.
Adrenaline release often produces trembling. In an agitated dog, trembling typically resolves soon after the dog is removed from the stressful or exciting situation.
Situations that commonly produce fear or excitement-related trembling in dogs include veterinary visits, meeting strangers, loud noises, storms, their owners returning home, preparations for walks or car rides, feeding time and others.
Shivering is a normal response to decreasing core body temperature. When temperature drops, the body shivers to generate heat through muscle movement. If you suspect your dog is shivering due to cold, get your pet into a warm environment immediately.
If the dog continues to shiver despite being moved to a warm place or shivers in a warm environment, the animal may have a fever or another problem unrelated to the cold.
If your dog starts trembling and seems to be cold despite being in a relatively warm environment, your pet might have a fever.
In a true fever, the body temporarily raises normal body temperature in response to an infection, a drug reaction or other trigger. When this happens, the dog shivers in an attempt to reach this higher body temperature.
To determine if your dog is shaking due to a fever, you should take the animal’s temperature with a rectal thermometer if possible. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, dogs with true fevers usually have body temperatures between 103 and 106 degrees.
For a fever between 103 and 104 degrees in an otherwise healthy dog that is eating and drinking normally, at-home care may be sufficient.
If, however, the dog’s temperature rises above 104 degrees, the dog has other symptoms or the fever lasts for more than 24 to 48 hours, you should take your pet to a veterinarian. A body temperature over 106 degrees in a dog can result in severe complications and is a medical emergency.
Shaking can be a sign of pain in dogs. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, other signs that can indicate your dog is in pain include the following:
- Changes in behavior.
- Enlarged pupils.
- Increased time spent sleeping.
- Adopting a hunched posture with the front end lower than the hind end.
- Licking or biting at one area of the body.
- Increased vocalization.
- Attention seeking.
- Poor coat.
- Vacant stare.
- Glazed expression.
- Decreased appetite.
Keep in mind that signs of pain are usually subtle and vary based on the cause of the pain and the individual dog. Because most dogs are very good at hiding pain, your pet is usually in considerable pain by the time you notice a problem.
If your dog is trembling and showing any of the signs listed above or you suspect the trembling is related to pain for some other reason, get your pet to a veterinarian who can prescribe pain-relief medications and find and treat the cause of the pain.
Some common medications that your vet might prescribe to help relieve pain include Rimadyl (also known as Carprofen), or Deramaxx.
MUSCLE WEAKNESS AND EXHAUSTION
In the same way your legs might be shaky after a long run, a dog’s legs might shake after exertion. This type of trembling is often confined to the legs and resolves after a period of rest.
If this happens often, the trembling is severe or it happens with no apparent cause, you should have your pet examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
A number of toxins cause shaking in dogs. Some of these include the following:
- Snail bait and other insecticides.
- Tremorgenic mycotoxins, which are typically found in spoiled or contaminated food.
- Ethylene glycol.
- Certain medications.
- Certain poisonous plants.
- Other toxins.
If your dog is shaking and you have reason to suspect that the animal could possibly have been exposed to any type of toxin, take the pet to the nearest emergency clinic immediately. If your pet has been poisoned, early treatment might save the dog’s life.
OTHER POTENTIAL CAUSES OF TREMBLING IN DOGS
Dogs can shake or tremble for a number of reasons in addition to those discussed above. Some other potential causes of shaking in dogs include the following:
- Low blood sugar.
- Kidney disease.
- Electrolyte imbalances.
- Low blood calcium.
- Addison’s disease.
- Allergic reaction.
- Brain infection.
- Brain tumor.
- Other diseases affecting the brain or the spinal cord.
- Corticoid-responsive tremor syndrome.
- Genetic disease.
- Hind-leg tremor in geriatric dogs.
If your dog shakes for no reason, has severe tremors or has shaking associated with any other symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, weakness, loss of appetite, depression, lethargy, eye problems, coughing, gagging or other concerning signs, take the dog to a veterinarian.
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To ensure that you're prepared in case of emergency involving your dog, our vets have prepared a free canine emergency handbook outlining:
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