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Dog shaking off

The essentials

  • Shivering can be common — Shivering isn’t usually serious, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
  • Stress, anxiety, and fear are typical culprits — Learn how to differentiate between the causes of shaking.
  • Know when to call the vet — If your dog is shaking constantly or they have other symptoms of illness, call your vet ASAP.

Have you noticed that your pup is shaking uncontrollably? It’s not an uncommon sight, but it can be a bit frightening and make you wonder if your dog is okay.

Learn about some of the common reasons why dogs shiver or tremble (sometimes referred to as “tremors” in dogs).

Why do dogs shake?

There are a handful of reasons as to why your dog may shake, and it’s important to know which are normal behaviors caused by harmless reasons and which are causes for concern. Let’s dive into the various reasons for shaking:

1. They’re anxious or stressed

Your pet may express their anxiety or stress in a multitude of ways, including by shaking. Some dogs are reactive to things like thunderstorms, loud noises, trips to the vet, meeting new people, or you leaving. Oftentimes, causes are specific to your dog and their background.

Signs of stress include:

What you should do: If your dog experiences anxiety over repetitive situations you can’t avoid, consider desensitization and counterconditioning training or seeing a vet for anti-anxiety medication.

2. They’re excited

One of the possible reasons that your pup shakes their entire body is because they’re full of excitement about a situation. This adrenaline rush can sometimes feel overwhelming so shaking is a means to help express their excess energy and calm themselves down.

This is especially common in younger dogs who have weaker impulse control.  It’s also a way for them to show that they love you when they haven’t seen you!

3. They’re in pain

Shivering and shaking can be signs of illness and distress. Some potential causes are canine distemper, poisoning, liver disease, or kidney disease. It could also be something more common and less life threatening like an upset stomach or an injury like a hurt paw. Signs of pain include decreased appetite and aggression.

What you should do: Monitor your furry friend and their body language and seek vet attention immediately if the shivering is accompanied by abnormal behavior or if your dog becomes unresponsive.

4. They’re cold

Just like you, your dog can be affected by the cold weather! Certain dog breeds fare better in colder weather like Siberian huskies and samoyed while other dogs like the greyhound or smaller dogs like Chihuahuas have a harder time regulating their body temperature.

It’s important to understand your dog’s breed and how their size and body mass can affect how they experience the environment. In some cases, exposure to extreme cold can cause hypothermia.

What you should do: Limit exposure to the elements when possible, and ensure they have a warm spot in the house to heat up. If you’re feeling it, dog clothes can be a great option!

5. They have a medical condition

Shaking coupled with other symptoms like stiffening of their limbs and excess salivation can be signs that your dog is experiencing a seizure and perhaps has a seizure disorder like epilepsy. If your dog’s shaking is caused by repeat seizures, it can cause an increase in body temperature that leads to organ failure.

Another medical condition that prompts shaking is generalized tremor syndrome (or shaker syndrome), which vets often attribute to an auto-immune dysfunction, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), or nursing mothers who have low blood calcium.

What you should do: If you suspect that your dog is having a seizure, avoid restraining your dog and keep your hands away from their mouth. Take a video of the event and contact your vet immediately.

6. They have an ear infection

If you notice your dog shaking their head excessively, they could have an ear infection or other ear problems. While all dog breeds can get ear infections, some breeds such as cocker spaniels, basset hounds, and golden retrievers are more prone to them than others.

7. They’re aging

Old age can cause a loss of muscle tone and development conditions like arthritis or joint pain. This in turn can cause what looks like shaking or shivering. Shaking in older dogs can also be a sign of canine cognitive dysfunction, which causes anxiety and restlessness in dogs.

What you should do: Consult with your vet if you notice your senior dog shaking as this could be a sign of an underlying issue that can be solved with medication or therapy.

8. Their breed

White dog shaker syndrome is most common in small, white-coated dogs, like Maltese or West Highland white terriers, but any breed has the potential to develop it.

What you should do: Consult a veterinarian who may use prednisone to treat shaker syndrome and manage symptoms over time.

9. They’re wet

Wet dogs find the quickest and most effective way to dry off is to shake that water off of their coats. Dogs can shake off as much as 70% of the water in their fur in a short time, just 4 seconds!

10. They’ve ingested a toxin

Sometimes, tremors and muscle weakness in dogs are caused by toxins or medicine overdoses. Common toxins include chocolate, permethrin (an insecticide), and xylitol. Familiarize yourself with less common toxic substances and what people foods can cause toxicity in dogs.

🚨 If you can’t get a hold of your vet’s office, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

German Shepherd dog hiding under a blanket

What to do if your dog is shaking

If your furry best friend suddenly starts to shake or tremble without an obvious cause, or if they develop other troubling symptoms in tandem, consult with your vet or seek treatment at the emergency vet.

Shaking can be harmless in many cases, but it’s best to be cautious. If everything turns out fine, you may feel like you overreacted — the risks of underreacting, though, are too great.

Sometimes, it’s hard to know what’s causing your dog’s tremors. With so many potential causes, it can be difficult to rule out something more serious. However, if pet parents see muscle tremors and it’s accompanied by any additional signs of sickness, you should contact a vet immediately to help get your pup back to health.

Frequently asked questions

What constitutes my dog shaking?

Shaking may look different on all types of dogs. Small dogs may shiver more noticeably than larger dogs simply due to their size. If a dog has an ear infection they may shake their head while a dog with an injury on their backside may shake just their hind legs.

A good way to know what’s out of the ordinary when it does happen is to pay close attention to their regular habits. That way, you’ll know if a behavior is new and needs attention.

Should I be worried if my dog is shaking?

It depends on the cause of their shivers. A shaking dog doesn’t automatically mean there are any issues. Small breeds often shake due to their low body mass. White dogs have a predisposition for shaker syndrome. Dogs with motion sickness may shake in the car and dogs with separation anxiety may shake in your absence. However, some shaking is due to an underlying cause that warrants intervention.

It’s important to understand the difference between normal shaking and dog shakes that are a sign of another issue and seek medical attention when necessary.

What causes trembling in dogs?

The most common reasons for dog shivering usually are normal responses due to anxiety, stressful situations, or fear or excitement. Sometimes, certain health conditions can cause shivers like hypoglycemia or epilepsy. In certain severe cases, the ingestion of a toxic substance, the canine distemper virus, a neurological disorder, or kidney failure can cause your dog to develop tremors.

What is trembling a symptom of in dogs?

Trembling can be a symptom of high fevers, seizure activity, lack of body heat, a contagious virus-like canine distemper, neurological diseases, and more common causes like excitement or anxiety.

What does it mean when your dog starts shaking out of nowhere?

If your dog trembles out of nowhere it’s a good idea to pay close attention to their symptoms and seek veterinary care right away. While it may be for several reasons, oftentimes random bouts of shaking can be due to health issues.

How can I soothe my dog’s shaking?

The most likely reason your dog is shaking is from fear, stress, or anxiety. At home, dog owners can use a blanket or dog jacket to help them feel safe and protected, much like humans with weighted blankets. This also helps cold dogs hold body heat and warm up quicker. Another helpful tip is to pay attention to them! Walk them, sit with them, and play with them, and the tremors may subside.

Are tremors in dogs life-threatening?

There’s a good chance that the dog shakes you’re seeing aren’t caused by a life-threatening problem. As a dog owner, you should be on the lookout for additional symptoms that could point to a larger issue. Common signs of shaking that are caused by an underlying problem can present as drooling, lethargy, and diarrhea.