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Why is My Dog Shaking? Causes & What to Do! (Vet Answer)

sick australian shepherd dog lying on grass

Vet approved

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt Photo

Written by

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt

MRCVS (Vet)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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What Causes Shaking in Dogs?

A shake, tremble, or shiver in dogs is common, but it can cause worry if we don’t know why it’s happening. There are a few different reasons why a dog might shake – most are nothing serious – but it can help to do a bit of troubleshooting at home to find out if your dog needs to see a veterinarian. So, want to understand your dog’s shake? Then read on…

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What Sort of Shake Is It?

If your dog is having a big, whole-body shake that only lasts a few seconds then there’s a good chance this is perfectly normal – and your trousers will be covered in water or dust! This type of shake is, of course, totally normal and lots of fun to catch on slow-motion video!

If your dog is making little shiver-like trembles – all over or just one hind leg – this is also common and unlikely to be serious, but it is worth considering the possible reason for your dog’s shake. The cause could be anything from excitement to pain, and there might be subtle clues to help you work out which is which.

Note: If your dog has a new shake that won’t stop or is shaking so much that they are struggling to pick up food, to drink, or to balance when going to the toilet, then you should see a veterinarian urgently.

sick australian shepherd dog
Image Credit: Irini Adler, Pixabay

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What Causes Dogs To Shake?

1. Excitement

Often, dogs will shake with excitement – they are fun-loving little characters, and they are clever enough to learn when a good time is on its way. If your dog starts shaking as you put on your coat and favorite dog-walking boots, then chances are this is an excited shake and absolutely nothing to stress about.

A dog with an excited shake will probably have their ears forwards, tail up, and look ready for action. The shake is usually fast and gentle.


2. Nerves or fear

Dogs can tremble with nerves, just the same as humans. This could be confused with excitement – for example, if your dog trembles in the car, are they excited for a trip out or worried about the journey? It’s important to try and work out which – if it’s nerves, there are some things that can help.

scared dog hiding in grass
Image Credit: Isa KARAKUS, Pixabay

3. Loud noises

A likely reason for dogs to shake with nerves would be loud noises, like firework bangs. If your dog has a nervous shake, they will carry themselves in a scared way – with their tail down, back hunched, head lowered, and ears down.

If your dog is nervous about a particular experience, like fireworks, then your veterinarian may be able to recommend calming methods, like providing a hideaway, or a distraction like a stuffed rubber chew toy (never leave your dog unattended with a chew). It may be appropriate for your dog to take supplements or prescription drugs to help control the anxiety. Your vet will be able to advise which is best for your situation.


4. Desensitization to reduce anxiety

The gold-standard way to help reduce anxiety is to re-focus your dog’s mind so that the thing they’re scared of is no longer scary – this is called desensitization. Your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist will be able to tell you exactly how to desensitize your dog – don’t do this without proper help because you could make the issue worse.


5. Cold

Just like people, dogs can shiver when they are cold. Most of the time this is a passing tremble – at the start of a walk, for example, before they have got moving and warmed up. Most dogs that shiver are just reacting to feeling cold on the outside – it is only a gentle shake and doesn’t last long.

However, shivering can be a sign that your dog is getting dangerously cold, especially if their whole body is shaking uncontrollably.

Shivering happens because the body realizes it is getting cold and makes some heat from the movement of shivering. This helps to prevent the temperature inside the body (the core temperature) from dropping. If shivering doesn’t work, the core temperature drops and the body develops hypothermia – this is life-threatening in dogs, just like in humans.

sick dog
Image Credit: Lindsay Helms, Shutterstock

6. Try to warm your dog up

If your dog is shivering after being outside in winter weather (cold rain, snow, and ice), after swimming in cold water, or after sitting still in colder temperatures, like in a parked car, the shaking could be serious.

Use a towel to dry a wet dog, wrap your dog in a blanket, move indoors to a warmer place if possible, and cuddle your dog (if they don’t mind). If you’re worried your dog could be developing hypothermia, then you should see a veterinarian urgently.


7. Pain

Sometimes dogs that are in pain will shake. This can be from sudden pain – like an injury on a walk, similar to shock in humans – or longer-term pain like arthritis. If you think your dog is in shock, or sudden pain, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Dogs with arthritis often shake. The shake is usually in the leg, but it can vary. It’s hard to know if the shake is purely from pain, or whether arthritic dogs shake from muscle weakness around arthritic joints. Either way, your veterinarian can probably help.

It may be that your dog needs pain medication, or if they’re already on pain medication, their regime might need jiggling about a bit to give them better relief from their symptoms. Alternative therapies, such as physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, or acupuncture, could also benefit your dog.

It’s normal for arthritis to get worse over time, or to be more painful at certain times than others. Keep in regular contact with your veterinarian so tweaks can be made to how you manage your dog’s condition – a new or worsening shake is a good reason for an appointment.


8. Feeling sick

Dogs with nausea (feeling sick) often shake. This can be immediately before they vomit or more generalized. If your dog has a new shake as well as being off their food, or showing behavior like lip-smacking, there’s a good chance they feel sick. If your dog has pain in his tummy, this could also cause a shake.

If your dog shakes for a few seconds, vomits, and then seems fine afterwards, there’s probably no reason to contact your veterinarian, but do keep an eye on your dog for other symptoms. If your dog is being sick a lot, is very sad or quiet, or their sicky feeling seems to be lasting for more than 24 hours, it’s best to make an appointment at your veterinary clinic.

close up of french bulldog dog being held by veterinarian doctor at vet clinic
Image Credit: Hryshchyshen Serhii, Shutterstock

9. Other illnesses

Some dogs can tremble due to weakness in their legs or slowing of the nerve messages from the brain to the legs. Nerves can get slower and less good at passing on messages as a dog ages. Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a disease that can cause shaking in the hind legs, and weakness of the dog’s back end – it often looks like arthritis in the early stages.


10. Spinal injury

Dogs can get injuries to their spine, which can cause shaking – intervertebral disc disease is the most common. This condition happens more readily in dogs with curvy legs, like dachshunds and basset hounds. If you have a Dachshund, or another curvy legged breed, and you notice a shake of their hind legs, you should get them checked over by your veterinarian.


11. Seizures

Dogs having a fit (seizure) will usually shake. Dogs can experience small seizures, which could be just the shaking of one part of the body. This type of shaking will be short-lived, and your dog may seem confused by it. Whole-body seizures can also lead to shaking – this shaking will likely be quite dramatic, and your dog will seem unconscious. If you think your dog is having a seizure, contact your veterinarian immediately.


12. “Shaker syndrome”

Dogs can get a syndrome called “shaker syndrome.” The cause of shaker syndrome is unknown, but it is more common in small, white dogs like the Maltese. The shake varies in severity – it could be a mild shake or an all-over body tremble that makes it difficult for the dog to do other things. In most cases, dogs are fine apart from the shake. There is medication available to help treat shaker syndrome once it has been diagnosed.

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Conclusion

If your dog has a new shake that lasts more than a few minutes, and it is not excitement, then you should speak to your veterinarian about it. It’s unlikely to be serious, but it may still be sensible to have an appointment, to discuss any underlying reasons like pain from arthritis.

If your pooch gets the jitters from feelings of pure joy, then – excellent news – your dog is happy and there’s no cause for concern!


Featured Image Credit: EvitaS, Pixabay

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