Why is my dog shaking or trembling?
We frequently receive calls from worried owners about why their dogs are shaking or trembling. There is a very long list of possible causes but generally, persistent noticeable shaking or trembling is a sign that something is not right, so you need to find out what the matter is as soon as possible.
Few dogs feel the cold in the quite the same way as humans. They have permanent fur coats which are great at keeping them warm - I have crossbred dogs that are perfectly happy swimming in the sea in the middle of winter when I would think very hard before entering the water even with a drysuit on! So unless it is a very cold day and/or they have become wet and have not been dried off properly, then shaking or trembling is likely due to some other cause.
Sometimes, dogs will get so excited that they tremble with excitement when they are very happy or anticipating something they are looking forward to such as feeding time, a long walk or their owner returning home. This is just part of their character and need not be a cause for concern.
On the other hand, trembling and shaking can also be associated with dogs that are anxious or afraid of something. Fireworks, loud noises or anticipating things they don’t like (visits to us vets!) can all reduce some dogs to trembling and shivering. For many of these anxieties, there are now lots of possible treatments available, the majority of which do not involve drugs but they do need to be tailored to the individual dog. Check with your vet if you think your dog is trembling or shaking because they are worried of anxious.
Shaking and trembling can also be associated with a variety of genuine illnesses and medical conditions. Certain breeds such as West Highland and Maltese terriers can suffer from idiopathic cerebellitis, commonly known as White Shaker Syndrome, which involves tremors affecting the whole body. Medical conditions where fever develops can also cause trembling and shivering and should be investigated as soon as possible.
Some substances that are poisonous to dogs such as chocolate, nicotine (from cigarettes), xylitol (an artificial sweetener found widely in chewing gum) and metaldehyde (the most commonly used slug bait) can also result in muscle tremors and even convulsions. Veterinary treatment should be obtained immediately if poisoning is suspected.
Perhaps the most common reason we see trembling and shivering in older dogs is due to pain and discomfort. Arthritis can make walking and even standing uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Often, they don’t scream out in pain, but you can see they are slowing down and are stiff when they get up and down. Their weaker muscles often just start trembling when they are lying down or standing still. Because the trembling often disappears once they start moving again, many owners don’t recognise this as a sign of pain and discomfort, but any older dog that is showing persistent shivering or shaking should be examined by a veterinary surgeon. The good news is that there is a wide variety of possible treatments available to relieve any discomfort.