Is Shaking or Trembling an Emergency?

Shaking or trembling falls into the category of “it depends.”

It’s one of the things when knowing your breed, your dog, and individual circumstances is essential.

For example, my daughter’s Chi shakes even when she gets excited to see somebody. Indeed, some small dogs shake or tremble at the drop of a hat. Yet, small dogs are also highly susceptible to hypothermia and hypoglycemia, both of which can be deadly.

Is Shaking or Trembling an Emergency?

With very few exceptions, shaking or trembling is a sign of an emergency to me.

For example, some very serious causes of shaking or trembling include:

  • pain
  • hypoglycemia
  • poisoning
  • kidney failure
  • inflammatory brain diseases or seizure disorders
  • Addisonian crisis
  • Distemper
  • neurologic disorder
  • neuromuscular diseases (e.g. myasthenia gravis)
  • liver disease leading to hepatic encephalopathy

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a medical emergency.

It occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can compensate. Typically, hypothermia sets in due to exposure to fridged weather conditions or cold water. However, even a moderately cold environment can lead to hypothermia over time.

As the body temperature drops, it affects the function of the heart, nervous system, and other vital systems. Eventually, the heart and breathing can fail, leading to death.

A dog is suffering from hypothermia when their body temperature drops to 98˚F-99˚F (37°C).

Symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • shivering
  • stiffness
  • difficulty walking
  • lethargy
  • confusion
  • pale gums

Moreover, with severe hypothermia shivering stops, breathing slows, and your dog might collapse.

Exposure to cold isn’t the only potential cause of hypothermia. Other factors that can lead to hypothermia include:

  • surgery/anesthesia
  • bleeding
  • illness
  • kidney disease
  • heart failure
  • diabetes
  • certain poisoning

Further information: Dog hypothermia

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is a condition in which blood sugar levels are lower than normal. Critically low levels of sugar in the blood are life-threatening.

In dogs, the most common cause of hypoglycemia is a side effect of diabetes treatment. However, small dogs, especially puppies, are susceptible to low blood sugar. Their bodies cannot store enough glucose to compensate for times of fasting or stress. Combine that with higher metabolic requirements, and you have a recipe for a potential disaster.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • loss of appetite or increased hunger
  • disorientation
  • weakness
  • lethargy
  • restlessness
  • tremors/shivering

Further information: Low Blood Sugar in Dogs

Fever

Why would fever, abnormally high body temperature, cause chills? The answer is quite simple—it is from the increased contrast between the body’s temperature and the environment.

Consequently, the muscles contracting and relaxing to produce more body heat results in shivering.

Fever that is high enough is an emergency in itself. But, further, the underlying infection or toxins can be life-threatening as well.

As a result, symptoms of fever in dogs include:

  • shivering
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy
  • depression

These may combine with symptoms of the underlying cause.

Further information: My Dog Has a Fever: Fever (Pyrexia) in Dogs

Poisoning

Do you believe that the only symptoms of poisoning are vomiting and/or diarrhea? You’d be wrong. Depending on the poison, they can have many different symptoms, including trembling.

Several toxins can lead to tremors or shaking or tremors in dogs. For example:

  • compost
  • mycotoxins (moldy food or garbage)
  • chocolate
  • xylitol
  • snail bait
  • certain rodenticides
  • some prescription medications

Other symptoms might include:

  • weakness
  • disorientation
  • depression
  • drooling
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • seizures

Further information: Tremors in Dogs: Could My Dog Be Poisoned?

Bottom line, unless I had an excitable Chihuahua if my dog starts shaking or trembling, I’m calling a vet.

Related articles:
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Shaking/Trembling

Further reading:
Shaking or Trembling Dog: How to Distinguish Medical Emergencies

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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