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Why Is My Dog Shaking?

Though it often feels like we speak the same language, our dogs communicate primarily with their bodies. Pups can shake for many reasons, both physical and emotional. If you notice that your dog is trembling, it’s time to do some detective work to determine the cause. 

Here is what you need to know about common reasons for shakes and shivers – and when there may be cause for alarm. 

Dogs shake when they’re anxious or excited.

Full-body shaking can be a sign of either positive or negative overstimulation. If you’ve returned home after a long day and your pup greets you at the door wagging and trembling, he may just be overwhelmed with joy.

Likewise, a stressful event like a car trip or fireworks can bring on shaking accompanied by behavior like hiding or whining. 

If you can identify a trigger for your dog’s trembling or if it’s part of a predictable pattern of behavior, it’s likely emotionally induced. Anxious or excited shaking should resolve quickly when the triggering event has passed. 

Your dog may be cold. 

If the temperature has recently dropped, your pup’s shakes may actually be shivers. 

Short-haired breeds, like chihuahuas and pit-bull type dogs; dogs with flat faces, like bulldogs and pugs; and pups with very low body fat, like greyhounds and great danes, are all especially. Just like humans, chilly dogs will experience involuntary spasms as their muscles work to warm up. 

Shivering dogs can benefit from insulated pet coats and booties on winter walks. Always ensure that your pup has plenty of warm bedding, and never leave them outside for extended periods when temperatures dip below freezing. Dogs exposed to winter weather without proper shelter can experience hypothermia and frostbite. 

Shaking may mean pain.

Pain-related shaking is often accompanied by other tell-tale signs, like limping, whining, or restlessness. If your dog seems out of sorts, there is a good chance that there is a physical explanation for the trembling. 

As dogs get older, it’s best not to write tremors off as a normal part of aging without a thorough examination. If your senior dog is shaking, make an appointment with your vet to check for signs of arthritis or other health problems. 

Shaking can be a sign of illness.

Trembling can be an indicator of several serious medical conditions. If your pup’s shaking is unusual or without an obvious explanation, seek treatment immediately. 

Nausea

Dogs often shake when they are feeling queasy. 

Nausea can be brought on by a non-serious issue, like motion sickness during a car trip or overeating. It can also be a sign of kidney or liver disease, or an indicator that your dog has eaten something toxic like chocolate or xylitol. 

If you suspect that your pet may have ingested something harmful, contact your vet right away. 

Distemper

Distemper is an illness most commonly seen in puppies who aren’t fully vaccinated. Dogs suffering from distemper will experience shaking along with cough, fever, lethargy, and vomiting. 

Unfortunately, distemper is often fatal. The best way to prevent this and other serious illnesses is to ensure that your pet is up to date on all recommended vaccinations

 Generalized Tremor Syndrome (GTS)

Generalized Tremor Syndrome (GTS) is also called “little white shaker syndrome” because it is particularly common in small, white dogs like shih tzus, maltese, and poodles. 

Pups with GTS can experience localized or full-body tremors that often become more severe when they are excited or nervous. GTS isn’t fully understood, and it’s typically only diagnosed when all other explanations for shaking have been excluded. 

Currently, veterinary scientists suspect that GTS is a kind of autoimmune condition. It can often be improved with steroids and doesn’t typically affect dogs’ general health. 

When to see a vet about shaking?

Because there are so many possible explanations for shaking, it’s best to take any unusual or persistent trembling seriously. Be especially aware of any troubling symptoms that accompany shaking, like:

  • Whining and distress
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Limping
  • Panting or drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Changes in eating or drinking

If your pup is behaving strangely, reach out to your vet to rule out any potentially serious underlying causes of shaking.