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cat shaking

The essentials

  • Cats may tremble in fear or when they’re dreaming — These shakes are innocent enough. However, be mindful of other tell-tale signs of serious illness to distinguish a medical emergency from harmless behavior.
  • It’s possible to prevent or at least determine the cause of a cat’s shaking — Note how frequently your cat shakes and any other adverse health symptoms to help your vet diagnose the root cause.
  • Shaking may be a result of low blood sugar, kidney disease, poisoning, or shock — If you believe one of these is causing your cat to shake or seize, call your vet at once.

Causes of shaking in cats

Cats can shake for a number of reasons, ranging from harmless to extremely dangerous. Here are some common causes of cat shaking:

Hypoglycemia. Your cat’s blood sugar may have dropped, resulting in hypoglycemia. Usually, this can occur if your cat hasn’t eaten or there is an underlying diagnosis of diabetes or diabetes mellitus. Hypoglycemia can also be a symptom of other health problems. Connecting with your vet is the best possible way to determine the possible causes of shakes, as they can rule out or diagnose any disorders in your pet.

Cats generally become hypoglycemic for two reasons if there is a diabetes diagnosis involved: An overdose of insulin, or an over-response to bodily insulin. In either case, it can be a serious concern.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne

Fear or anxiety. Cats are creatures of habit. They can feel anxious about or fearful of changes in their environment, such as a new pet or work schedule. New stimuli, like seeing or hearing something unfamiliar can cause shaking in an anxious cat, too. You can help calm an anxious cat by wrapping them in blankets, speaking calmly to the cat, and using slow movements around the cat. Pet parents can reach out to their vet for anxiety medicine for their cat or experiment with calming pheromones (a more natural method of anxiety management).

Irregular body temperature. The normal body temperature for cats ranges between 100 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit . If your cat’s temperature is 103 or higher, then they’re running a fever. While fevers can help fight infections, they can be dangerous if they’re 105 degrees or higher, or last longer than two days.

If your cat has a lingering or high temperature for no apparent reason, they may be dealing with an infection or some other underlying illness. Consider taking them to the vet for diagnostic testing.

Kidney disease or kidney failure. Shaking could be a symptom of kidney disease, especially if there are no other causes behind it (such as a decreased sugar level or anxiety). Your vet can help you run diagnostic blood work to determine if your cat has this serious condition.

If you’re suspecting kidney disease to be one of the causes of tremors in your cat, don’t put off the vet appointment. If kidney disease isn’t treated early enough, it can result in kidney failure, which is one of the leading causes of death in cats .

Toxicity. Common household items such as lillies, chocolate, and coffee can be toxic to cats and are considered life-threatening. You should take your cat to the vet if you suspect they have ingested something poisonous.

Shock. Shaking could be a sign your cat is going into shock, which could be caused by sudden trauma or injury, blood loss, heart attacks, or anaphylactic (allergic) reactions. If you suspect this to be the underlying reason for your kitty’s shaking, get them to the vet right away. Your vet can help to diagnose and treat the health issues that may be causing your cat to go into shock.

Pain. Your cat could be shaking from being in pain due to an injury or infection. If you believe this could be the cause, examine your cat for any sores, cuts, burns, or signs that they have external injuries. If you still don’t see the reason and you’ve ruled out other causes, it’s time to take them to the vet in case they are experiencing an internal injury or infection.

Ear issue. If your cat is shaking its head instead of twitching all over, it might have an ear ailment such as an infection. These can easily go undetected in healthy adult cats and young kittens and can wreak havoc on your cat’s body temperature and ear pinna. Other signs to watch for include sensitivity to loud noises, excessive noise and “complaining” (such as irregular or pained meows), dizziness, or any discharge or odor coming from the ear. Your vet can diagnose and treat a cat’s ear infection after a complete physical exam.

Cold weather. Kittens are especially susceptible to pneumonia and hypothermia when the temps drop too low. If you notice your young cat shivering, hold them against you and rub them gently to help warm them up to a cat’s normal body temperature.  Make sure to keep your little ones — and older cats — bundled in blankets during the winter. This gives them a safe space that guards against lower temperatures and offers them the proper care they need to stay safe in the cold.

Treatment options for when your cat is shaking

So you’ve noticed your cat shaking and have a general idea of what might be causing it, now what? 

Note how long they’ve been shaking, the frequency, and if they’re shaking one part of their body (as they would with repetitive muscle movements) or if the tremors are all over. Summarize the information and have it ready for your vet when you’re seen.

All of these clues will help your vet determine the proper treatment. Here are treatments for some of the possible underlying conditions:

Sweets to reverse hypoglycemia — If your cat’s shaking is caused by low blood sugar, your vet may choose to correct levels by offering your cat something sweet to eat or giving them insulin if diabetes is the cause. We don’t recommend doing this at home unless you’ve been properly trained by your vet. You could risk feeding your cat something unsafe or giving too much insulin.

⚠️ If your cat hasn’t eaten to the point that they’re hypoglycemic, they may have an underlying illness that may need medical attention. Even if you can get their blood sugar levels under control, it’s always best to follow up with a vet to make sure your feline friend isn’t diabetic or seriously ill.

Heating pads for severe cold — If your cat is cold, you can use a heating pad or a heated blanket on low to warm them up until you can get them to the veterinarian. Always make sure there’s a towel or blanket in between the heating pad and your cat to prevent burns. You can also use a heat lamp instead.

Seek help for high temperature — Hyperthermia can be the result of fever due to a virus or an infection. Consider consulting your vet to determine the cause of the high temperature. A fever of unknown cause will also need to be assessed based on external (injury, outward infection) and internal factors (bloodwork) by a vet.

👉 Shock, toxicity issues, and pain are issues that typically need to be professionally treated. If you notice signs of extreme lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, trouble breathing, or other signs of poisoning or shock, head to your vet immediately. 

Pet insurance covers many emergency visits to the vet — find out what is (and isn’t) included by reading our pet insurance coverage guide.

Prevent shaking in cats

Numerous things can cause your cat to shake, such as low or high body temperatures, an illness, or low blood sugar. To ensure your feline is in optimal health, follow these tips:

  • Monitor eating habits to prevent hypoglycemia — Eating a few small meals a day will help cats regulate their blood sugar, ensuring it doesn’t spike or dip with infrequent feedings.
  • Keep your cat away from toxic substances — Common human foods such as coffee, alcohol, and chocolate, as well as a variety of houseplants, are toxic to cats. Other items in your home could also become choking hazards, such as hairpins, decorations, and toys. Make sure your curious kitten doesn’t have access to anything that could be harmful if swallowed.
  • Keep up with their blood work, especially in older cats — Routine blood work can give you an early diagnosis of kidney disease, cancer, and other serious conditions. Early intervention is key to a potentially positive outcome.
  • Keep your cats warm in winter to prevent hypothermia — Cats and kittens are especially susceptible to cold weather. Be sure to take proper precautions to keep your pet warm, dry, and comfortable in the winter months.
  • Introduce new environments and external stimuli slowly — Cats are known to shake when scared, and new situations tend to stress them out. Try not to put them in an unfamiliar place without some element of comfort. (For example, if you must travel with your cat, provide them with their favorite toys and blankets. Or, if you adopt another animal, gradually introduce them and don’t force the new relationship too quickly.)

Frequently asked questions

Why is my cat shaking or vibrating?

Cats can vibrate for numerous reasons, including low blood sugar, fever, ear infection, and kidney disease. Monitoring your cat’s overall health and getting them professionally evaluated by a vet can help pet parents to accurately determine the cause. If it’s a low vibration, they may just be purring extra hard with happiness or excitement.

Why is my kitten trembling?

Kittens are extremely susceptible to fear from unfamiliar surroundings — especially since they’re still new to this world. They are also (even more) sensitive to cold than older cats can be, so make sure they stay bundled and warm in cold weather and keep your house at a reasonable temperature.

If you’ve ruled out these two common reasons for shaking, monitor other aspects of your kitten’s health, such as their eating habits and if they’re in any obvious pain. Consider a vet visit if they keep shaking for seemingly no reason.

Why is my cat shaking while it’s sleeping?

Like humans, cats can move in their sleep from active dreams. If your cat doesn’t tremble in their waking hours, then it’s probably no problem — but it’s helpful to keep a close eye on them to make sure.

Why is my cat shaking its head so often?

If your cat is shaking their head only, they could have ear discomforts that can be caused by an infection or ear mites. To check this, look inside your cat’s ears if you can. They should be shiny and clean, without the presence of dirt or insects. If you see anything out of the ordinary, take your cat to the vet. Thankfully, ear mites and infections are simple to treat — but may require medicine to fully resolve.