Understanding the reasons why your dog shakes or trembles, and what you can do about it.
Turning to look and find your four legged best friend shaking can be a heart wrenching experience for most dog owners. But even as shocking as you may find it to be, it’s not uncommon. Dogs shake for a number of reasons. Some reasons are harmless while others of them are far more serious. Here’s what it may mean if your dog is shaking.
Dogs may shake or tremble when they experience extreme emotions such as fear and anxiety. Some dogs shake when they are truly scared – you may notice this behavior if a timid dog meets another dog on the street, or during a thunderstorm when your dog is afraid of the noises. This is also true of separation anxiety.
Dogs may shake out of excitement, too like seeing you walk through the door when you come home from work or meeting a new human. If your dog is really into a game of fetch, you may see him shake a bit as he focuses on the ball in your hand waiting for you to throw it. Dogs may also shake when greeting a loved one they haven’t seen in very long time. In these cases, shaking is a harmless behavior.
Shaking may indicate more serious issues in your dog, like exhaustion. A dog who is truly exhausted may start to shake because of muscle fatigue. If you ever notice your dog trembling at the end of a long walk, you should immediately have him lie down and rest. Offer him some water and be sure to monitor him for additional issues.
If your dog becomes overheated, he may shake from the stress on his body. It’s important to cool your dog down gradually right away and call your vet for instructions and further assistance. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can happen fairly quickly on hot days and when left unattended inside vehicles or closed up houses with adequate ventilation. If left unchecked, dogs can experience seizures and perish very rapidly because their bodies get too hot.
If your dog is too cold, his body will shiver to help create heat much in the same way that our own bodies shiver. In cases of shivering, we suggest that you dress your pooch in a properly sized dog sweater available at most pet stores and many animal oriented online retailers. While we discourage housing your pet outside, if you choose to do so please ensure they are provided with appropriate shelter to keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer as well as dry. If your outdoor dog is cold, please bring them inside promptly and warm him up gradually. Refrain from putting them back outdoors until the weather warms up and they have the proper shelter to keep them warm and dry.
Shock or Seizure
Dogs which go into shock often shake. Shock is generally the result of a traumatic injury which may or may not reflect a noticeable injury site. This can be from excessive heat or cold as previously discussed or from such things as a bite from a venomous reptile or insect – or perhaps from being struck by a car in your absence.
Indication of Illness or Chronic Conditions
While shaking in response to fear and excitement are fairly common, other types of shaking can indicate serious physical issues in your dog. In addition to physical injuries; shaking can indicate physical issues other than those listed above including heart failure, low blood sugar, and even fever. These are the more ‘hidden’ causes that fly below the radar and often go unnoticed until tragedy strikes much like diabetes and heart problems in humans, these are often the silent killers in dogs as well. Annual veterinary check ups will aid thwarting off these diseases, but it’s not foolproof.
There are many illnesses out there dogs are susceptible to. But that doesn’t mean there not avoidable or treatable. Distemper is just such an illness contracted through a virus and highly contagious. Normally offered with annual Rabies vaccinations, distemper can cause tremors and shaking within an infected pup or adult dog. It’s also one of the most common signs of distemper. Along with tremors and shaking, distemper can cause the following symptoms:
Pus-like eye discharge
If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately! Distemper can be treated with antibiotics, IV fluids, physical therapy, bronchodilators and more if caught in time.
Even in humans, pain can wreak havoc on the body. And our beloved canine friends are no different. Our bones creek, phantom pangs go awry and bodies aching all the time. Although our ability to show or convey our pain is much more complex and open than that of dog. That’s because dogs do not have the luxury of verbally telling you, ‘hey human, I’m really hurting”. Rather they might whine, pant a lot, lick a particular area incessantly, become lethargic or less active than normal, or even begin to tremble and/or shake.
Generalized Tremor Syndrome (GTS)
We’ve all seen it a time or two… that little white doggie shaking like a leaf for no apparent reason. I used to think it just a dog’s version of an inferiority complex when even my grandson’s Tonka truck is bigger than the dog. But in fact, GTS is a steroid responsive tremor syndrome seen in small white canine breeds like the West Highland Terrier and Maltese. More commonly, it’s called as ‘white shaker dog syndrome’ of which the cause is unknown.
Nausea or Motion Sickness
Nausea and motion sickness are the worst! I would rather have a toothache than hug a toilet or feel like I just off a Tilt-A-Whirl® amusement ride. Dogs truly aren’t much different than us in that aspect. Most dogs love nothing more than to go for a car ride, but there are a few that would rather be a couch potato than get car sick. Your dog may be one of them!
If your dog is experiencing a bout of nausea or motion sickness, he or she may not only drool and/or vomit but shake like a leaf as well. If they are shaking from motion sickness, simply don’t traumatize your dog unless absolutely necessary. In which that case, seek out your vet for canine motion sickness medication.
As for reasons of general nausea, it is not normal for a healthy dog to feel nausea or vomit. Therefore, underlying and more serious causes you are unaware of should be investigated by your local veterinary office.
The Bottom Line
Suffice to say, dogs shaking or trembling can be from a whole host of reasons. Once you have noticed that your dog is shaking, look for obvious signs of injury or illness – especially if it is sudden onset never encountered before in your pooch. If you find indications of injury or illness, stabilize them using basic pet first aid and call your vet immediately to seek further assistance.
If you can’t find an obvious reason for it, than you should take note of your dog’s behavior, any other unusual behavior and what is happening at the time – as well as recent events – and call your vet to make an appointment.
The bottom line to remember here is, even if you know that your dog is shaking because he’s cold or hot, it’s always a good idea to contact your vet to make sure that you’re taking the right steps in treating your dog or that you are not missing an underlying factor.