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canine health problems
Dog leg shaking

The essentials

  • Leg shaking and tremors can be caused by environmental factors — Cold temperatures or stress may be the reason. Other times, shaking can be a sign of a more serious issue.
  • Watch your dog closely for additional signs and symptoms — If your dog is unresponsive, has involuntary eye movements, has difficulty walking or is warm to the touch, not eating or drinking, vomiting, has diarrhea, or seems in pain, then it’s time to head to the vet.
  • There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment — Since leg shaking and tremors occur for various reasons, it’s important to work with your vet to find the best solution for your dog.

What causes tremors in a dog’s legs?

You may notice your dog’s legs shaking or having tremors when your dog is cold, excited, or drying off after running around in the rain. But other times, leg shaking and tremors can be a sign of an underlying condition. Tremors are involuntary muscle movements that resemble leg shaking, shivering, or trembling.

5 common reasons for dog leg shaking

If you notice your dog’s legs are shaking, don’t panic. Here are the most common causes of your dog’s leg shaking or tremors and signs that it’s time to call the vet.

1. Excitement

If you come home after a long day away or give your pup a new treat or toy, your furry friend might start shaking from head to toe with excitement. This shaking results from their body exerting excess energy and calming themselves down when overstimulated.

2. Stress or anxiety

If you notice your dog’s legs are shaking, it might be due to stress or anxiety. If this is the case, your dog may be showing other common symptoms like a tucked tail, pacing, stress yawning, or excessively licking their lips or nose. To treat the shaking or tremors long-term, you’ll need to pinpoint what’s causing your dog stress to properly treat their symptoms.

Some dogs can be anxious on car rides, trips to the vet, or when there is a thunderstorm.  If anxiety is the cause, speak to your local vet about your dog’s anxiety as your vet can discuss ways to calm your pet or prescribe an anti-anxiety medication if your pet is showing signs of severe anxiety.

3. Cold

Your dog’s legs may shake due to being cold. In this situation, try wrapping your dog up in a warm blanket to bring their body temperature up. If you live in a cold climate and your dog has thin or short hair, you may want to invest in a sweater or jacket for them to wear outside

4. Drying off

Your dog’s legs may be shaking simply as a way for them to dry off. If they just had a bath or were running outside in the rain or swimming, this natural reaction helps them dry off quicker.

5. Muscle cramps/spasms

 If your dog has been running around your yard or the dog park, they may experience muscle cramps or spasms if they over-exert themselves. Muscle cramps happen due to nerve hyperactivity and usually only last a few minutes. Along with shaking, you may notice your pup limping or moving slowly. You can help by giving a gentle massage or applying a cold compress to the area as well as allowing your pet to rest for a few minutes.

8 emergencies that cause dog leg shaking

If you think your dog’s shaking could be caused by one of the following, it’s important to get them seen by a vet immediately.

1. Distemper

Canine distemper is a highly contagious virus that infects a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. This airborne virus is spread by infected dogs or wild animals, including skunks, raccoons, and coyotes. Common symptoms include muscle twitches, head tilting, jaw convulsions, and seizures. If you think your dog has been infected with distemper, it’s essential to call your vet immediately for diagnosis and treatment.

2. Pain

Severe pain or discomfort may be making your dog’s legs shake uncontrollably. Additional signs your dog is in pain include lameness, panting, reduced appetite, lethargy, agitation, or being more vocal than normal. Because the pain can be a symptom of an injury or arthritis, it’s important to consult with your vet to find the cause.

3. Poisoning

Dogs are known for getting into and eating things they shouldn’t. Sometimes, though, this can result in them eating something poisonous that’s potentially life-threatening. Chocolate toxicity can cause tremors.  Besides tremors, other common signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, blood in stool, seizures, and lethargy.

4. Neurological disorders

An injury to your dog’s nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, can develop into a neurological disorder that can cause shaky legs and tremors. Some of these disorders include autoimmune diseases that affect the brain or spinal cord, slipped discs, brain or spinal cord infections, or strokes. Cerebellar hypoplasia is a congenital disorder where the cerebellum (part of the brain) does not develop properly in puppies. This condition can cause violent tremors.  An injury or infection that affects the cerebellum in a dog of any age can also lead to tremors. 

5. Seizure disorders

Seizures are a neurological condition that often stems from idiopathic epilepsy in canines. Seizures usually cause loss of consciousness,  paddling/tremoring of the legs, and urinary/fecal accidents.  Some dogs can have partial seizures where only a portion of their body is actively seizing.  If this is your dog’s first seizure or the seizure has been going on for five minutes, then take your dog to the nearest animal hospital.  Keep a journal to log your dog’s seizure activity.

6. Shaker syndrome

This condition causes tremors in a dog’s entire body. It’s most common in small, white-coated dogs, like Maltese or West Highland white terriers, but any breed has the potential to develop it. Veterinarians use prednisone to treat Shaker syndrome and manage symptoms over time.

7. Osteoarthritis

Also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), osteoarthritis refers to the inflammation in a dog’s joints due to the deterioration of cartilage over time. It’s primarily seen in large breed and senior dogs and affects their limbs and lower spine. Symptoms include lameness in one or more limbs, slowness to rise, reluctance to go up and down stairs or jump or play, a stiff gait, licking of the joints, muscle atrophy, swelling of the joints, or aggression (due to pain).

8. Low blood glucose (hypoglycemia)

When a dog has a low level of glucose in the bloodstream, this can cause tremors.  Diabetic dogs that receive too much insulin or receive insulin when they have not eaten are at risk for hypoglycemia.  If your diabetic dog is not eating, do not give insulin and call your local vet immediately to report your dog’s decreased appetite.  Pancreatic cancer can also cause hypoglycemia and tremors.  If you suspect your dog has a low glucose level, it is important to bring your dog to your local vet or ER vet immediately.

Other causes of tremors

Low blood calcium (hypocalcemia) can also lead to tremors as well as other symptoms.  A low calcium level can occur in a mother dog that is nursing too many puppies or a dog that has chronic kidney failure, hypoparathyroidism, pancreatitis, eats only meat, or has antifreeze toxicity.

Tetanus and other muscular diseases can also cause tremors in dogs.  If your dog steps on a rusty or sharp object and develops tremors in the area of the body where the wound is or has whole-body tremors, then tetanus is possible and an emergency vet visit is needed.

Pet insurance often covers emergencies. Prepare for the unexpected and get your quote, based on your pet’s breed, age, and location, at Fetch by the Dodo.

What should I do if my dog’s leg is shaking?

If your dog is shaking, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Assess the overall situation.
  2. Remove any environmental stressors — Potential stressors causing your dog to become anxious or overly excited could be new people or animals, a new environment, loud noises like fireworks, or strange objects.
  3. Get them dry — If your pup is wet or cold, dry them off or warm them up with a towel or blanket.
  4. Call your vet — If your pet’s legs are still shaking after having time to calm down or warm up, call your vet or local emergency vet hospital if it’s after hours.

When to see a vet

If the steps above don’t work and your dog is still shaking, it’s time to see a veterinarian so they can determine if there’s an underlying cause.

If your pet experiences unconsciousness, inability to walk, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or lethargy, or potentially had access to a toxic substance, you’ll also want to see a vet immediately.

👉 When in doubt, if you’re concerned about leg shaking or tremors in your dog, it’s always a good idea to call your veterinarian for advice. 

Treatment and recovery for tremors in dogs’ legs

Treatment will depend on what’s making your dog’s leg shake or tremble. For example, removing stressors or providing your pup with a blanket might provide some comfort if leg shaking is due to anxiety.

Serious injuries and conditions may require surgery, while many chronic conditions can be slowed with medication. Owners can also consider other therapies to speed up recovery if their dog’s condition requires it. For example, if a dog has osteoarthritis, your veterinarian may recommend pain medication, cold laser therapy, and physical therapy which can help alleviate pain and rebuild strength. A bed ramp for dogs can help your pet to get around the house easier in the meantime.

How to prevent your dog’s legs from shaking

It’s often prevention rather than a treatment that’s effective in stopping many of the causes of weak legs and tremors. By keeping your dog warm, stress-free, up-to-date on vaccines, at a healthy weight, and away from potentially toxic substances, you are taking all the steps you can to prevent your dog from shaking.

Frequently asked questions

What does it mean if my dog’s hind leg shakes?

Leg shaking and tremors in a dog’s legs result from many causes. Your dog’s legs may be shaking due to being overly excited or cold, or it could be a sign of pain, muscle atrophy, or an underlying issue, such as a neurological disorder. It’s best to keep an eye on your dog and remove any environmental stressors to stop the shaking. If your dog is showing symptoms like difficulty walking, unconsciousness, lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or weakness, or their legs don’t stop shaking after helping them relax, it’s time to call the vet.

What would cause my dog to constantly shake his back legs?

Different ailments can cause constant shaking in a dog’s back legs, including pain, muscle atrophy (from old age), Shaker syndrome, or a neurological disorder. If you notice your dog’s back legs are continually shaking, call your vet for the next steps.

Is it normal for a dog’s legs to shake?

This depends. If they’re cold, nervous,  or drying off after running around in the rain, yes. But only for a limited amount of time. If the shaking persists, it can be a symptom of a more severe condition. If you notice your dog’s legs are shaking regularly, you’ll want to seek medical advice from your vet.

Should I see a vet if my dog’s legs shake?

Potentially. First, it’s vital to pay close attention to your dog’s surroundings and look for additional symptoms. They may be shaking due to excitement or anxiety, or it could be a sign that they ingested a toxic substance or have an underlying issue that needs attention. If a dog’s legs continually shake or additional  symptoms are present, like pain, you’ll need to call the vet.