Why is My Dog Shaking?

Shaking, trembling and shivering puppy shys away from camera

Have you ever watched your dog shake, tremble or shiver in warm weather and wondered why? While it’s tempting to think that trembling or shivering is a result of being too cold, there are many other causes to consider.

Thermoregulation (temperature control)
Shivering is a very effective means of creating body heat, and is a normal response to decreasing body temperature. When a dog has a fever the body’s thermostat is reset to a higher temperature. When the temperature attempts to drop back down to normal, shivering occurs in order to restore the new, elevated temperature set point.

Excitement/Anxiety/Fear
All of these emotional responses are capable of evoking trembling in some dogs. Without the help of medication, Quinn, one of my dogs becomes a quaking, quivering mess during thunderstorms.

Pain
Trembling can accompany pain, whether due to acute trauma or a more chronic painful condition. Be aware that not all dogs demonstrate trembling in response to pain- trembling is simply one of several symptoms a painful dog may exhibit.

Medical disease
A variety of underlying medical issues, ranging from kidney failure to hormonal imbalances, can produce trembling. [Editor’s note: Learn about chronic kidney disease here.] Neurological disorders and muscle diseases commonly cause trembling as well.

Chihuahua's like this and other small dogs may shakeToxins
A variety of toxins cause trembling as one of the earliest neurological symptoms. Some examples include chocolate, antifreeze, and snail bait.

[Find out when shivering is an emergency.]

Muscle weakness
Atrophy or weakness of muscles, particularly those in the hind legs, often causes trembling. This may be the reason that hind leg trembling as a result of age-related muscle weakness is so common in older dogs.  

Small dog trembling
For many very small dogs, trembling appears to be just a normal fact of life. Theories abound as to why, but none have been documented to be true. Be forewarned, if you get a very small dog, you will likely observe a trembling very small dog from time to time. This is certainly the case with my little Nellie girl who weighs in at 11 pounds.

What to do if trembling occurs
Trembling is always cause for concern, particularly if it is out of character for what you know to be normal for your dog. If you observe trembling, a good first step is to determine if something in the environment is causing your dog to feel anxious or fearful. If so, eliminate the source of the stress or remove your dog from the situation to see if the trembling abates.

Another good first step is to take your dog’s temperature (the normal range is 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit). The presence of a fever warrants veterinary attention.

If your dog does not appear anxious or fearful and his body temperature is normal, I encourage you to contact your veterinarian particularly if:

As is true for most medical issues, the sooner the cause of your dog’s trembling is identified and properly addressed, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome.

Questions for your veterinarian

  • Why is my dog trembling?
  • Is some sort of treatment necessary?
  • What other symptoms should I be watching for?

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on: 
Friday, April 29, 2016

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