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Why is my dog shaking?

One of the scariest things that a dog owner can experience is their pet starts shaking. There are many reasons that dogs shake. Some of the reasons dogs shake are perfectly normal and healthy. Others can be because your dog has some sort of mental limitation that is causing your dog to shake. Other reasons for shaking can be because your dog has serious health concerns that must be addressed. 

The most common reasons dogs shake are cold, anxiety, distemper, generalized tremor disorder, nausea, old age, over-excitement, pain, poisoning, and seizure disorders. It is important to be able to determine the cause of shaking in a dog but it is often difficult to do so. 

There are key differences between these reasons for shaking in dogs. It is important to be able to identify the reason your dog is shaking and if it is normal. If you are unsure why your dog is shaking, you should immediately consult a veterinarian as some reasons for shaking in dogs can be serious health concerns that should be addressed immediately. 

Cold

One reason you might see your dog shake is if it’s cold outside. Just like humans, dogs warm themselves by shivering. When a dog shivers in the cold it is an involuntary reaction happening in its body to warm them up. Their muscles are contracting and then relaxing which generates heat. This is a normal and healthy response to see your dog shake in the cold. 

Anxiety

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety in dogs is shaking. Dogs can shake when they are afraid or have anxiety. If you have an anxious dog you might see them shake when they are left alone, in a new environment, or even when fireworks are going off. Try to do your best to calm your dog. It might help to take them to a quiet environment where they feel comfortable and secure. 

Anxiety is something that can improve over time although some dogs will be naturally more anxious than others. If your dog is anxious around people, it can take some time and proper socialization before that anxiety gets better. Proper training and lots of patience and love are required to help a dog that is shaking due to anxiety. 

If you feel as though your dog is shaking due to anxiety, you may want to meet with a trainer or even talk with your veterinarian for tips on how to help your dog feel less anxious. Just like people, dogs can overcome their anxiety however it takes time.

Distemper

If you have a puppy or a young dog that is not fully vaccinated, shaking might be a sign your dog has contracted a virus. Distemper is a virus that attacks the dog’s respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems. Shaking may be a sign your dog has distemper. 

Generalized tremor syndrome

Generalized tremor syndrome in dogs is a condition that causes the dog’s body to shake. The condition is rare and not much is known about it. It is thought to be caused by a problem in the nervous system. Dogs with generalized tremor syndrome will often have a hard time walking and standing. 

This syndrome is often seen in small breeds of dogs. If your dog has generalized tremor syndrome, it is important to talk with your veterinarian about the best course of treatment for your dog. There is no cure for this condition but there are ways to help manage it and make your dog more comfortable.

Nausea 

Dogs can shake when they get nauseous. Nausea can happen from being anxious or sick. If your dog is shaking from anxiety it should not last longer than an hour. But if a dog is shaking because they feel nauseous it could be a sign that something more serious is going on. 

If nausea is the reason that your dog is shaking, there are things that you can do to help manage nausea. One of the first things to do is stop feeding your dog for 12 to 24 hours. This will help allow their stomach to settle. If nausea persists, it is important to consult a veterinarian as there may be an underlying condition causing nausea such as liver disease or kidney disease.

Another thing to do is discuss your dog’s diet with your veterinarian. A dog that is on the wrong diet may feel nauseous.  A change in diet may help to settle a dog’s stomach and stop the shaking.

Old age

Dogs can also shake more often as they age. Senior dogs can shake for all the same reasons we mentioned before from generalized tremor syndrome to anxiety or cold. Senior dogs could also shake because of pain or even a medication they are on. Some senior dogs even shake when they need to use the bathroom.

Shaking in older dogs can be relatively normal. It is important to work with your veterinarian as your dog ages to make sure they are getting the care necessary to live out their golden years as comfortably as possible.

Over-excitement

Sometimes you might notice your dog start to shake when they get over excited. If your dog is shaking from over-excitement this can be totally normal. The important thing is to pay attention to why your dog is shaking. If your pup is about to eat or play fetch with you, they might start to shake from the excitement of it all. It shouldn’t be too hard to tell if they are shaking from excitement and not something more serious. 

Pain

Shaking may be a sign your dog is in pain.  Dogs can’t tell us where they hurt but they may show signs that something is wrong. If your dog is shaking and seems to be in pain, it is important to consult a veterinarian as there may be an underlying condition causing the pain such as arthritis or cancer.

If there is an obvious cause of pain in your dogs, such as recent surgery or injury, then you should try and relieve the pain as much as possible to help alleviate the shaking.  If you are unsure of what is causing your dog’s pain, it is always best to consult a veterinarian.

Poisoning

It is always important to watch what your dog gets into. We all know that it is impossible to keep two eyes on your dog at all times.  If you think that your dog may have ingested something poisonous, it is important to call your veterinarian or the pet poison hotline right away.

Some signs that your dog has ingested something poisonous include:

  • Shaking or tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Lethargy

Because shaking is often one of the first signs, it can be a great indicator that something is wrong. If you see any of the other signs in combination with shaking, it is important to get your dog to the vet right away as they may need to be treated for poisoning.

Some foods that are poisonous to dogs are :

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Alcohol
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Onions and garlic
  • Tomatoes
  • Raw dough 
  • Yeast 
  • Xylitol (this is found in sugar-free gum, candy, baked goods, and some peanut butter)

If your dog ingests any of these foods and is showing any of the signs listed above, it is important to call your veterinarian or the pet poison hotline at 800-213-6680.

How to tell the difference between shaking and seizures

There is a difference between shaking and seizures in dogs.  Seizures are often more violent and can involve the whole body. Seizures often last for a minute or two and your dog may lose consciousness. After a seizure, your dog may be disoriented or seem tired.

Shaking is often more localized to just the head or legs and doesn’t involve loss of consciousness. Shaking can also last for a longer period of time than seizures.

If you are unsure if your dog is having a seizure or just shaking, it is always best to consult your veterinarian.

When should I be worried about my dog shaking?

Shaking can be normal in some cases but there are also times when shaking can be a sign of something serious. There are warning signs to watch out for, however, it is always better to be safe than sorry. If your dog is shaking consistently or if you suspect something is wrong, it is always best to consult your veterinarian.

Warning signs to watch for:

  • Shaking that lasts for more than a few minutes
  • Shaking that occurs with other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or pain
  • Your dog seems to be in distress
  • You can’t figure out why your dog is shaking

Can shaking in a dog be normal?

Shaking in a dog is sometimes normal. Many dogs will shake when dreaming or when they are excited. Puppies may also shake when they are cold or scared. If your dog is shaking and you can’t figure out why it is always best to consult your veterinarian.

Are some forms of shaking more dangerous in dogs?

Some forms of shaking are much more serious than others. It always depends on the underlying cause. Some conditions that cause shaking are very serious such as poisoning or cancer. Other things that cause shaking are not so serious such as cold or dreaming. If you can’t identify for certain why your dog is shaking it is always best to consult your veterinarian.

When should I talk with my vet if I see shaking in my dog?

Always remember that a veterinarian who knows your dog’s history is always in the best position to give you medical advice. If you are concerned about your dog’s shaking it is always best to have a discussion with your veterinarian.

Some things that you should mention to your veterinarian are:

  • When the shaking started
  • What other symptoms are present
  • If your dog seems to be in pain
  • What, if anything, makes the shaking better or worse
  • What, if anything, you have done to try and help your dog

Your veterinarian may want to perform some tests such as blood work or x-rays to determine the cause of the shaking. In some cases, your dog may need to be hospitalized for further treatment.

The bottom line

As you can see, there are many reasons a dog might shake. Some of these reasons are normal while others may be cause for concern. If your dog is shaking and you’re not sure why it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian. They will be able to help you determine if the shaking is normal or a sign of something more serious.