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essential tips
Black dog running outside

Just like humans, dogs can experience muscle cramps (MCs) or muscle spasms. Similar to what we experience, muscle cramps are painful muscle contractions. They’re usually short but very uncomfortable.

Muscle cramps are caused by nerve hyperactivity, so you might notice your dog getting cramps when they’re active. Depending on the cause, your dog’s cramps can last just a few minutes or be more continuous if it’s related to a lack of calcium in the blood (hypocalcemia).

Signs your dog is cramping

  • Limping or lameness
  • Moving slowly
  • Avoid running
  • Have problems getting up and down
  • Pain is usually worse in one area

👉 Muscle cramps can look like many other serious conditions, such as seizures. If your dog is vomiting or not moving at all you should take them to the vet right away. 

How to treat your dog’s muscle cramps at home

For human muscle cramps, we’ve always been told to eat a banana to get a boost of potassium. But what about our four-legged friends? If you suspect your dog’s cramps are from a long run, here’s what you can do to help:

Gently pet and massage your dog — According to the American Kennel Club, massage can be a good tool to help increase circulation, reduce pain, and strengthen your bond with your dog. They provide detailed instructions on how to best massage your pup at home.

Apply a cold compress to the area — Using an ice pack directly on the cramping muscle will help relieve associated pain and inflammation. Cold therapy is a useful tool to help your pup recover faster. Dr. Erica Irish advises, “wrap a cold pack in a cloth to avoid severe vasoconstriction and only apply for 3-5 minutes a few times a day.”

Provide fresh, clean water — As mentioned earlier, dehydration can cause unwanted muscle contractions. Avoid doggie dehydration by providing plenty of fluids.

Make sure your dog gets lots of rest — Just like it does for humans, rest will help your dog recuperate after strenuous activity and exercise.

They made need medication or supplements — If your dog is experiencing frequent and painful cramps your vet may recommend anti-inflammatories or pain relievers.

Try physical therapy — Treatment from a professional can be beneficial to treat and prevent future cramping. There are often helpful exercises a clinic can recommend you do with your dog at home.

👉 Frequent twitching can drive up a body’s temperature, leading to heat stress. Keep a thermometer on hand and take your pup to a vet if their temp reaches above 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

What causes muscle cramps in dogs? 

From overexertion to medical conditions, here’s what could possibly cause your dog to experience muscle spasms:

  • Overexertion. Dogs can get sore and experience muscle strains from exercising too much. Fatigued dog muscles may twitch. This can occur more often in overweight dogs.
  • Physical injury. A damaged joint, muscle injury or sprain could cause muscle cramps. This often occurs in a dog’s hind legs. The muscle will tense or spasm because it’s trying to protect an injured joint. More serious injuries including a slipped disc or pinched nerve could also cause muscle cramps.
  • Dehydration. Just as in humans, dehydration can lead to muscle cramps in dogs. A lack of fluid in the system can cause muscles to contract, leading to cramps and spasms.
  • Twitching in their sleep. It’s common for dogs to twitch or react physically while they’re sleeping. This twitching is thought to be associated with their dreams. However, it may help to take a video of your dog while they are sleep-twitching so your vet can figure out what’s truly happening.
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Low blood sugar in dogs can lead to muscle weakness, making them more prone to cramps.
  • Poisons. If your dog has eaten a toxic substance like chocolate or something containing caffeine, they may experience tremors. Toxins can lead to kidney failure. Pet owners will often mistake this for a muscle spasm. It’s important to call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline (888) 426-4435.
  • Distemper. This contagious virus can be spread between dogs or even from wild animals. Usually, the first symptom is discharge from your dog’s eyes. Following this, they can experience muscle spasms and twitches, among other things, since the distemper attacks the nervous system.
  • Neurologic and musculoskeletal conditions. Epilepsy and other doggie conditions could cause recurring muscle spasms and seizures. It’s important to consult with your vet to rule these out and assess for neurological damage.
  • Dietary deficiencies or allergies. Doggies lacking certain vitamins and nutrients can be more prone to muscle spasms. A lack of magnesium and calcium has been shown to cause neuromuscular issues, including spasms and tremors. Spasms can also appear due to an allergy to a new food or medication that is introduced.

What’s the difference between muscle cramps and seizures?

Seizures in dogs are made up of recurring muscle spasms caused by neurological disorders. A seizure may be referred to as a convulsion or fit, and the term epilepsy is used to refer to repeated seizures. However, muscle cramps in dogs can occur without it being a seizure. Muscle cramps are typically caused by a less severe medical condition.

When your dog should see a vet

If you’re unsure of what may be the underlying cause of your dog’s muscle spasms or twitching, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your dog’s vet. If your dog is experiencing any other symptoms such as vomiting or can’t move, take your dog to a vet or emergency clinic immediately. Depending on the root cause of your dog’s muscle spasms, your vet may prescribe medication such as muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatory medicine to help.

Frequently asked questions

Can dogs get body cramps?

Yes, and while cramps can occur anywhere on a dog’s body, they often occur in the hind legs.

What’s the most common cause of muscle cramps in dogs?

While there are many reasons a dog is experiencing cramping, most often it is due to physical exertion or an injury.

What helps dogs to stop cramping?

To choose a treatment method, you must understand the cause of the spasms. Rest, plenty of fluid, and body massages are great for dogs who get cramps after over-exerting themselves. However, if your dog’s cramps or spasms are tied to epilepsy or ingesting toxins you should get them to a vet as soon as possible.

Is muscle twitching normal for dogs?

Yes, it is normal for dogs to twitch, especially when they are asleep and dreaming! But if you think something more serious might be happening, take a video to show your vet.