When is my dog’s shaking normal and when should I be concerned?
Purposeful shaking off water, debris, or stress is a natural reflex for dogs. A well as your dog might shake from happy excitement—within reason, that is not a cause for concern either.
There are, however, situations when shaking or trembling is a problem and signals a health red flag. Examples include:
- kidney failure
- Addison’s disease
- inflammatory brain diseases or seizure disorders
- neurological disorders
- neuromuscular diseases (e.g. myasthenia gravis)
- liver disease leading to hepatic encephalopathy
- medication side effects
- white dog shaker syndrome
In other words, if you cannot readily see the reason for healthy shaking, you have a problem on your hands. While small dogs are most likely to shake for harmless reasons, they are also at the highest risk of life-threatening cause for shaking.
Further information: Shaking, Shivering, and Trembling in Dogs
Many small-breed dogs shake at the drop of a hat. Daughter’s Chi shakes even when she gets excited to see somebody. She’ll shake when she’s anxious or scared, or cold—and she does get cold easily. Just because it is common for her, it doesn’t make it healthy.
Fear, anxiety, and stress are detrimental to your dog’s health. Stress floods the body with hormones that serve a purpose in short-term situations to facilitate fight or flight. However, long-term stress damages health.
Dogs can get stressed out for a variety of reasons, including:
- unfamiliar situations
- strange people or animals
- thunderstorms and other noises
- veterinary visits
If your dog tends to get stressed out to the point of shaking, take measures to help them feel better about themselves and the world around them. Work with a trainer and your veterinarian to change the way your dog feels about the world. Your dog will be happier, healthier, and live longer.
Hypothermia occurs when your dog becomes unable to maintain their body temperature. .Prolonged exposure to cold isn’t the only possible reason. Your dog might also suffer hypothermia when they are wet, submerged in cold water, or seriously ill.
Technically, your dog is hypothermic when their body temperature drops below 99°F (37°C). Make no mistake; being too cold is just as dangerous as being too hot.
Shaking is an initial sign of your dog being too cold. As hypothermia progresses, shivering becomes more violent, and your dog will become sluggish and confused. Eventually, the shivering stops—your dog might be suffering from severe, life-threatening hypothermia.
The shivering might also stop when severe hypothermia set in.
If your dog has been out in wet, cold, and windy conditions and becomes lethargic, unresponsive, stiff, and/or uncoordinated, they are in trouble and need to get someplace warm and receive medical attention right away.
Further reading: Hypothermia in Dogs: What Happens in a Dog’s Body with Hypothermia?
How much cold a dog can tolerate depends on their size, breed, coat, age, health, what they’re used to, and even individual constitution. JD has less tolerance to cold than Cookie does even though he’s bigger. He even has less cold tolerance than Jasmine did and she was quite a bit older. So even though they are the same breed, about the same size and both have had the same opportunity to adjust to weather changes, we have to make allowances for the difference.
One thing to remember is that when it’s damp, raining and windy it doesn’t even have to be that cold for your dog to develop hypothermia.
Note: A dog can also suffer hypothermia when they cannot thermoregulate for medical reasons, such as shock or kidney failure. General anesthesia can also lead to hypothermia.
Hypoglycemia describes a situation when your dog’s blood sugar (glucose) drops too low. Given that glucose is the fuel on which your dog’s body runs, it is a dangerous situation.
Small dogs (especially small breed puppies) are especially at risk. Lethargy and uncontrollable shaking are the signs to watch for. Untreated, hypoglycemia can lead to seizures and even death.
Other symptoms associated with dangerous hypoglycemia include:
- loss of consciousness
Further reading: Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar) in Puppies
Certain toxins can cause tremors in your dog, such as chocolate or snail bail poisoning.
Shaking or trembling can also be a sign of pain, injury, poisoning, kidney disease … almost anything that makes a dog feel bad. Particularly when other symptoms are present, do not wait to see a vet. Breaks my heart to read online questions such as, “my dog has been vomiting all day, has diarrhea and it’s trembling, what can I do to help him at home?”
It breaks my heart, even more, when somebody’s dog “has been really quiet and weird, trembles and shakes, not eating and barely drinking, barely active, hiding …took him to the vet twice this week … the vet told me to monitor him since it doesn’t seem like an emergency since he’s not vomiting or having diarrhea.”
If my dog was shaking or trembling, with or without any other worrisome symptoms, I’d want a definite answer and a plan to help them.
Unless they were just that excited to see me. Any reason other than that calls for an intervention to make them feel better.
Shaking, Shivering, and Trembling in Dogs