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Why Is My Dog Shaking? Common Causes and Concerns

6 min read

Updated - Mar 16th, 2022

If your dog is shaking, you might just assume they’re cold. But chilly temperatures aren’t the only reason our furry friends may be trembling. 

Dogs are expressive animals, often excited and overcome with tail wags and full body shakes, especially before a walk or treat. From the full body quiver that comes with an after-nap stretch, to shaking from joy when their family gets home, pups shake, shiver, or tremble for plenty of reasons that are perfectly harmless. But other times, shivering can be a sign of poisoning, disease, or injury. 

As a dog owner, learning the reasons behind normal and excessive dog shaking and shivering can help you better recognize problems, and make sure your pup is as happy and healthy as can be. Here’s everything you need to know about dog shaking – including what causes them to shiver, and when you should be concerned or just turn the other cheek. 

Do small dogs shake more than large dogs?

Shaking tends to affect smaller dog breeds more quickly than large dog breeds. Your smaller pup’s hormonal response to anxiety or fear may happen much quicker than that of a large dog. Smaller dogs also shake more because they’re more anxious due to their height, as being small can make them feel more vulnerable – leading to higher levels of anxiety and shaking. Smaller dogs, like Chihuahuas, are more prone to shivering than larger dogs due to their lack of body mass and insulation.

If your dog shakes what feels like an abnormal amount, it’s possible they have shaker syndrome, a neurological condition involving generalized head and body tremors in dogs. Shaker syndrome is most commonly found in small white dog breeds, such as the Maltese and Poodle, and in dogs weighing less than 30 lbs. But any dog is susceptible to this condition.

Common causes for shaking, shivering, or trembling in dogs

Dog shivers aren’t always an emergency. Here are some common reasons why your dog may be shaking: 

1. To express they’re cold 

Even dogs bundled up in adorable jackets and boots can experience shakes and shivers, so the simplest reason dogs shake is because they’re cold. This behavior is normal, as shaking in colder weather is an involuntary response designed to get a dog’s body temperature up and prevent hypothermia. If your dog doesn’t do well in the cold, it may be a good idea to limit their outside exposure in the colder months or invest in a dog coat to keep them warm and ease their trembling. 

2. To express excitement 

Dogs are often happy, and can shake from excitement. If they’re playing with you, or if you’ve just gotten home and they’re happy to see you, they will most likely shake, bark, and even urinate from excitement. This is more common in puppies who tend to have weaker impulse control and excess energy, but there’s no danger in this type of shaking, as it will most likely stop once they calm down. 

3. Actively dreaming

Have you ever noticed your pup twitching or making noises during their sleep? There’s a good chance your dog is dreaming. Whether they’re dreaming about chasing the neighbor’s cat or running around with their best friend, their twitching is a normal muscle movement. Like humans, dogs experience the same rapid eye movement that’s associated with dreaming, which may cause them to bark or twitch their legs similar to the way humans may move around or talk in their sleep. 

4. To express stress, anxiety, or fear

If your pup is triggered by a loud noise, such as thunderstorms or fireworks, shaking is a normal sign of fear. In this case, shivering isn’t harmful, but a stressed dog isn’t ideal. If you notice your dog’s anxiety isn’t limited to occasional triggers or events and wonder if they have separation anxiety, they may also be barking, hiding, or pacing. 

5. To seek attention

Dogs are smart animals, and may notice that you rush to them each time they show a sign of weakness. They may learn that shivering is a good way to grab your attention, and an extra treat, and may even begin to shiver while begging for food to earn sympathy. 

6. Old age

As dogs get older, some develop tremors in their hind legs that usually don’t affect how they move or walk. Shivering in older dogs could also be a sign of arthritis or joint pain, and other muscle weaknesses. 

Is shaking a sign of pain?

When dogs shake, this behavior can present itself in a variety of ways. The shaking may spread throughout their entire body, or be limited to a particular region, such as their head or back leg. Dogs often show pain through shaking in their hind legs, which is more common in dogs who have developed joint pain or arthritis. A dog with an ear infection will shake their head and scratch their eyes frequently.

Shivering can also be a sign that your dog is suffering from an illness. Shivering and muscle tremors can be symptoms of serious medical conditions, including distemper or hypoglycemia. Shaking for prolonged periods of time or in combination with other symptoms, such as vomiting, could be an indicator of a severe medical condition.  

If you can’t pinpoint the cause of your dog’s shaking, they may have an underlying health condition. Some less common reasons for shaking, which can be causes for concern, include: 

1. Distemper

Canine distemper is a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of puppies and dogs. They can become exposed through sneezing or coughing, and are most common in puppies who haven’t been vaccinated yet. Symptoms include coughing, eye and nose discharge, and fever. 

2. Nausea

Dogs can get nauseous from motion sickness, medication, eating too much, or eating the wrong thing, like a plant. They can also get nausea from kidney or liver disease, and may salivate more than usual, hide, yawn, and vomit. 

3. Poison or other toxic substances 

Poisoning is one cause of nausea, and shaking and seizing are major indicators of dog poisoning. Dogs can be poisoned by substances that aren’t toxic to humans, such as cigarettes and chocolate.

4. Generalized tremor syndrome 

Also known as steroid responsive tremors, generalized tremor syndrome (GTS) is presented as tremors that are rhythmic, repetitive, and involuntary. It may be centralized to one area of the body or may cause the entire body to shake. GTS usually starts between nine months and two years of age, and can occur in dogs of any size and breed. 

5. Seizures

Normal shaking in dogs is much different than experiencing a seizure, when their muscles seize up and they lose mobility and awareness of their surroundings. A dog may shake, foam at the mouth, collapse, or even bite their tongue when experiencing a seizure. Seizures look different depending on the dog, and can range from small tremors to violent muscle spasms. 

When to see a vet about dog shaking

Once you have determined your pup’s shakes and shivers aren’t caused by stress, excitement, or old age, you should contact your vet. If your dog is displaying additional symptoms alongside shivering, such as lethargy, limping, drooling, or diarrhea, and continuing to shake for longer than an hour, take them to the vet immediately. 

By keeping your pup warm, up-to-date on puppy vaccines, at a healthy weight, and away from potentially toxic substances, you’re taking all the steps you can to prevent harmful illnesses that can cause shaking. 

You know your pup better than anyone, so if you think something is wrong, don’t shake it off – seek veterinary help. You never know what the future holds, which is why Pumpkin’s dog insurance plans were created to help you say “yes” to the best care, should any accidents or illnesses arise.

Christina is a copywriter and a loving cat mom to an adorable Bombay named Zetta.