Why is my dog shaking? Reasons why dogs get the shivers
Like us, dogs can shake with excitement or fear or shiver when they’re cold. Sometimes, the cause can be medical and a little more complicated. We look at some of the most common reasons for a dog shivering.
There are lots of reasons you might find your dog shaking. Some are completely normal, whereas others may mean talking to your vet. Some of the common reasons why you might see your dog shaking are:
- Excitement or anticipation
- Fear or anxiety
- Old age
Many dogs will shiver or tremble with excitement. This is perfectly normal – it’s simply a way of expelling excess energy.
Dogs don't have words to express their feelings, so they use their bodies. When they're excited, their energy levels go up; sometimes, this energy comes out as shaking. It's like how some people tap their feet or fidget when excited or nervous.
When a dog gets excited, their body produces more adrenaline, the "action hormone." This helps them react quickly to things around them. This rush of adrenaline can make them shake or quiver.
Dogs can become fearful in many situations, including separation from owners, meeting new people, dogs or other animals, loud noises such as fireworks or thunderstorms, or unfamiliar situations such as the veterinary clinic. Shaking, trembling and shivering are all common ways that dogs display fear. Depending on the source of the fear, there are ways to help minimise this.
For noise anxiety, making a den for them in the quietest part of the home, closing the curtains and providing them with some sound therapy, where you play calming sounds to minimise any startling noises outside, will all help them to relax.
If your dog has separation anxiety, leaving them with a safe chew toy and the radio on can help provide comfort. If your dog is scared of unfamiliar people or animals, providing plenty of calm, pleasant interactions with lots of treats and praise can help re-frame these meetings as positive experiences.
Always reassure your dog if they are fearful, and make sure they have access to plenty of safe, calm spaces. If your dog suffers from fear or anxiety commonly, discuss a referral to a qualified behaviourist with your vet.
Did you know your dog can get cold despite their furry coat? Low temperatures are chilly even for dogs, and this is made worse if they get wet. If your dog is shivering after getting caught in a heavy downpour, dry them thoroughly with a warm towel when you get home. You can also get dog bags that dry them off while they snooze or rest in bed.
Of course, most dogs shake themselves to remove excess water from their fur. This important reflex helps prevent your dog from developing hypothermia and is perfectly normal – just stand well back.
Certain dogs are more likely to feel the cold than others. These include hairless or thin-coated dogs, young or older dogs, very small dogs and those with medical conditions.
Some cold dogs are:
These dogs may need a coat when you walk them in the cold weather, and depending on how well your central heating works and how much your energy bills are, they might need to wear a jumper around the house.
A good coat or jumper for your dog will only work if it fits correctly. When fitting a coat for your dog:
- Measure your dog around the neck, the deepest part of the chest and along the length of their back.
- Ensure the coat is snug but not tight or too constrictive around the legs.
- Ensure the coat is easy to put on and take off
- Make sure it’s made from the right fabric
- Get your dog used to wearing it by using short sessions initially and plenty of treats and praise.
You know what it’s like when you’re under the weather and get nasty aches and shivers. It’s no surprise that your dog can experience the same symptoms.
There are several medical reasons why dogs shake, including
Generalised tremor syndrome (GTS)
Generalised tremor syndrome is when your dog experiences shaking or trembling that can affect their whole body. It's not the same as the occasional shiver when cold or scared; this is more constant and can happen even when relaxed. It's important to know that this condition isn't usually painful for your dog, but it can be concerning.
Talk to your vet if you notice your dog shaking more than usual. They can run some tests to rule out other health issues and advise you on managing the tremors. Sometimes, medication is prescribed to help control the shaking.
Inflammatory brain diseases
This brain condition involves inflammation in the brain, which can be quite serious. The inflammation can be caused by infections, immune system issues, or even certain toxins. When a dog has an inflammatory brain disease, you might notice symptoms like shaking or tremors, along with other signs like changes in behaviour, difficulty walking, or seizures. The shaking isn't just your usual excited wagging or shivering from the cold; it's more persistent and can happen even when your dog is resting.
Distemper is a serious viral disease that affects the function of a dog’s organs, including their immune system, stomach, brain and lungs. The disease is highly contagious and is spread in the air and through fluids such as saliva and urine. It’s most common in dogs less than a year old without a fully developed immune system.
Before effective vaccines were developed, it was a dangerous disease for dogs to catch and had a high death rate. However, it can easily be vaccinated against, so ensure your dog is up to date. Pet Health Club members can ensure their dog is vaccinated against distemper and other dangerous diseases as a part of their plan.
An underactive adrenal gland
The adrenal gland is a small organ near the kidneys that produces important hormones. When these glands are underactive, they don't produce enough hormones, a condition often referred to as hypoadrenocorticism or Addison's disease.
The hormones from the adrenal glands help regulate things like metabolism, stress response, and blood pressure. When there's not enough of these hormones, it can throw your dog's system out of balance. This imbalance can lead to weakness, lethargy, and shaking or trembling.
A seizure is a sudden burst of uncontrolled electrical activity in your dog's brain. This can result in various symptoms, including shaking or trembling, muscle spasms, and sometimes even loss of consciousness.
The shaking during a seizure differs from the normal shaking you might see when your dog is excited or cold. During a seizure, the shaking is more intense and usually involves the whole body. Your dog might also show other signs like drooling, paddling their legs, or even temporary loss of bladder control.
If your dog has a seizure, your vet will likely recommend tests like blood work or an MRI scan to determine what's causing the seizures. Treatment usually involves medication to help control the electrical activity in the brain and reduce the frequency of seizures.
One serious reason for shaking and tremors in dogs is poisoning. The easiest way to keep your dog safe around the home is to keep poisonous and toxic substances locked away – and if you have any reason to suspect your dog may have eaten something deadly, get them to your vet as quickly as possible.
Common dog poisons include:
- White spirit
- Pesticides and insecticides
- Grapes or raisins
- Human medications such as ibuprofen
It can be difficult to spot when a dog is in pain. They may not cry or whimper but can show more subtle signs such as trembling, shaking, hiding away or reacting unhappily when you touch them. If your dog starts showing unusual behaviours like this, seek advice from a veterinary surgeon.
As dogs get older, their body goes through changes just like humans do. Their muscles may weaken, and their nervous system might not work as smoothly as it used to. These changes can make them shake or tremble sometimes.
Sometimes, shaking is a sign that something else is going on health-wise. Older dogs can have problems like arthritis, joint pain or even medical conditions like kidney issues.
If your dog is shaking and you're concerned, the first step is a vet visit. The vet can do tests to find out why your dog is shaking. Once you know what's up, you can make your dog more comfortable with medication, special diets, or other treatments the vet suggests.
So, if your older dog is shaking, don't panic, but take it seriously.
Read more: Hydrotherapy for dogs
Need advice on a dog shivering?
If you’ve noticed your dog shivering, shaking or trembling and you need advice, get in touch with your local vet.