HEALTH & CARE

Dog Trembling: Most Common Reasons Why Buster Is Shivering

Scared dog
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

One of the saddest images for owners is to see their dog trembling. Sadder still is that some pooches never seem to stop. If you have seen your own beloved companion shaking so much that his teeth are rattling, alarm bells will go off and a million questions will come to mind. There are some obvious reasons he may be doing this, and there are some causes that are not readily identifiable.

In this article, we will explore a number of sources behind these tremors. We will also identify what else to look for and what steps you can take in order to improve Rover’s well-being.

Excitement aplenty

Most owners know for certain what gets their dogs gets excited and how they will react when anticipating dinner, a walk, treats, a chance to go outside, or even when you walk through the door after a long day at work. Depending upon the situation, they will pant, dance, jump, and run around in circles, or maybe their mouths will water. You may be asking, “Then why is my dog shivering every time I come home?”

The simplest answer usually is that is his way of expressing his excitement at seeing you. There is nothing you can or need do about this display. Give him plenty of attention and take solace in the fact that he is enjoying life.

Cold

A cold dog is the most likely cause for shivering. Just like in humans, when dogs get cold, the body’s natural reaction is an attempt to warm itself by making muscles move. If this seems to be the case for Rover, you should do what you can to warm him up.

My dog is cold, and yours..

Wrap him in a blanket, hold him close to you, have him sit by the heat duct, or anything else that you can think of to bring up his body temperature.

Once you have done this, observe where he spends most of his time in the house. You may find a draft, and you may have to consider moving his crate. Also, make sure that he has a blanket to lay down on, or perhaps a dog bed tailored to his size. You would be amazed how much warmth either can provide.

Fear

If your dog is shaking to the point that his knees are knocking together, he could be afraid of something. This outward expression is often seen in dogs with a history of abuse and may or may not be accompanied by barking, cowering, a lowered tail, or a moment of uncontrolled urination.

Dog trembling of fear

Assess your surroundings for loud noises (fireworks, power tools, and the like), strangers, and other dogs. Do what you can to remove him from the thing that is causing him distress and he should return to his former happy self within no time.

Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the main causes for trembling, or “the shakes,” in humans; it is the same for dogs, and episodes of anxiety are usually brought on for similar reasons. The symptoms are much more noticeable because our pets don’t feel the same desire to hide the symptoms as we do. Our little buddies (or big, as the case may be), will begin to feel anxious when confronted with unfamiliar or other stress-inducing situations.

Strange people and strange animals are the most likely candidates for sending your pal on a round trip to Shakesville, but there are many things that can trigger an episode. Violent thunderstorms, vacuum cleaners, the neighbor’s chainsaw, a ride to the vet, and even your absence from the house for a few hours can make your pooch feel as if the world is coming to an end. The stress induced by you not being around is called separation-anxiety, and as any owner who has experienced this will tell you, it can emotionally cripple your companion if not addressed.

Besides trembling, an anxious dog can act out in other ways, such as chewing, barking, and urinating, but thankfully, there are a few things that you can do to help your dog deal with the stress. There are several training methods available through experienced trainers.

Dog anxiety trembeling

In this capacity, they act like pet psychologists in order to help Fido overcome is issues. If your pet appears to have severe problems with anxiety, a veterinarian may be able to help by proscribing a medication. The quickest and perhaps the most effective for the owner/animal relationship may be to simply holding and stroking him until either the stressful situation has passed, or he has become used to it.

Illnesses

Aside from the more obvious answers, there is a long list of reasons for your dog to be visibly trembling. Once you have ruled out anxiety, temperature, or anything else that you can immediately change within the environment, take a hard look at the items on the following list.

If your pooch shows signs or experiences symptoms of any of these conditions, you should seek the advice of a veterinarian immediately. Your vet may determine that nothing is wrong; however, the old adage about it being better to be safe than sorry is just as true when it comes to the canine members of your family.

Fever

It may seem strange at first, but yes, dogs can get fevers too. Just like as if Rover were cold, the shivering is an attempt to bring up the body temperature in order to fight off an infection or other ailment. If the environment is relatively warm and Rover doesn’t appear to have any other obvious symptoms, you could try to check his temperature with a rectal thermometer. This is a task that may require plenty of distractions, treats, or both, though many owners would rather rely on their vet for this particular procedure.

If you do choose to check it yourself, keep in mind that according to the American Kennel Club, a normal body temp for canines is between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 to 39.2 degrees Celsius). A running fever would be about 103.5 F (39.7 C) and can easily get as high as 106 F (41.1 C). Low-grade fevers can be easily managed under your observation, but higher fevers, and lower ones that persist for more than 48 hours should be handled by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Further testing, including radiology, may be required to find the source of the problem.

Shaking dog syndrome

This illness, also known as White Shaker Dog Syndrome, usually affects smaller breeds, although any size is susceptible to it. It is a disorder that attacks the nervous system that causes your dog to shake all throughout his body. The severity of the shaking varies on the degree of the condition, as well as the response to treatment.

Other related symptoms include uncontrollable tilting of the head, weak limbs, and frequent seizures. Episodes of shaking are often triggered by exercise, excitement, and stress-induced anxiety. If your dog has developed this disease, you must be mindful of what can trigger an episode because, in some cases, the tremors could incapacitate him.

Shaking dog syndrome

Although Shaking Dog Syndrome is usually not fatal, it is not always curable. There are plenty of treatments available, ranging from avoiding the things that trigger episodes, to sedatives and steroids. The drug treatments are administered in stages.

First, high doses are given in order to completely halt the shakes. Once they stop, the dosage is lessened over a period of approximately weeks. If the occurrences return, the treatment begins again at full strength. The goal is to reach a point where your best friend no longer suffers from trembling, however, some will require small doses of the meds for the rest of their lives.

Distemper

This is a common virus that attacks the respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems. Along with coughing, sneezing, and the discharge of mucus, distemper can bring on bouts of trembling which can be so violent that they induce seizures. Puppies are particularly vulnerable to this nasty virus, which can be passed on through contact with other dogs, puddles of urine, and blood. Other things to watch for is the sharing of water and food. Just about any way that humans pass on viruses to other humans remains true for dogs.

Puppies should be vaccinated for it at either six or nine weeks as part of a “core” vaccination cycle, which includes the booster shots. The vaccine is supposed to be good for at least five years; however, your vet will know the best time for another shot. One of the reasons vets stress the need for the distemper shot is because, not only is it usually fatal, there is no cure for the disease.

Once a dog contracts it, the vet must focus on fighting off the secondary diseases that he will undoubtedly come down with due to a weakened immune system. If he manages to fight off the infections and rebuild his immunity, his nerves and brain may have suffered irreparable damage.

Poisoning

If your dog suddenly begins to tremble, there is a good chance that he has eaten something that is particularly toxic. Vomiting and diarrhea are usually the most common symptoms when ingesting poisons, but you cannot rely on them being present.

Poisonous plants and household cleaners top the list of things that can kill, but many owners (especially new ones) are surprised to learn the number of foods they eat every day that are actually fatal to their pets. The following is a list of foods that are harmful, but it is by no means exhaustive:

  • Chocolate
  • Salt
  • Avocados
  • Bread dough
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Onions and garlic
  • Xylitol (artificial sweetener)

Small amounts of these foods normally will have no adverse effects, though it is wise to take measures that Rover never has the opportunity to taste any of these. If you suspect that he has eaten any of these foods, a poisonous plant, or chemicals do not hesitate to call your veterinarian. If you don’t have one or cannot reach one, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center immediately at (888) 426-4435. They will direct you on what to do.

Kidney disease

Another common health problem among dogs of all breeds and ages is kidney disease. The kidneys can affected be by trauma, genetic disorders, frequent infections or blockage in the urinary tract, the formation of cysts, stones, toxins (antifreeze, plants, chemicals, etc.) and a long list of other ailments. The more obvious symptoms of a disease of the kidneys are either too much, too little, or painful urination.

One of the more subtle indications of a problem is uncontrollable shaking, if Rover’s shakes are accompanied by urination issues, he may have developed a disorder. The unfortunate thing with any of these indicators is that, by the time you recognize them, your beloved’s kidneys have already suffered a 65 to 75 percent loss of function. By this point, the damage is nearly always irreversible.

Kidney disease

The older your dog is, the higher the odds are that he will develop some sort of kidney disease; however, regardless of age, veterinarians recommend that you take your pet in twice a year for blood tests and urine screenings. It is vital that they catch any adverse developments as early as possible so that it can be managed through diet and drug therapy.

While all breeds can have problems with their kidneys, some are more genetically predisposed. These include the Beagle, Bull Terrier, Chow Chow, Cocker Spaniel, Doberman Pinscher, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Rottweiler, Shih Tzu, and Standard Poodle among many others.

Addison’s disease

This is another serious disease within the canine community. It is caused by a lack of a hormone called cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands. The adrenals, located on near the kidneys, help to control the amount of water that remains in the body, as well as salts and sugars. When not functioning properly, these glands will not produce the amount of cortisol your dog needs, therefore, he may seem weak, disinterested in playing, have no appetite, and even tremble for hours at a time. This, of course, will lead to more life-threatening problems.

Stressful and anxiety-inducing situations will worsen the symptoms because cortisol is normally released to help the body react properly to the situation. Addison’s disease can affect any dog at any age; however, it is most common in female dogs between the ages of 1 to 12, though usually around 4 years of age. Breeds that are more likely than others to acquire Addison’s include Bearded Collies, Great Danes, Leonbergers, Portuguese Water Dogs, Rottweilers, Standard Poodles, West Highland White Terriers, and Wheaten Terriers.

Strangely, mixed breeds are the most susceptible. Although Addison’s is not curable, the good news is that it is treatable. Veterinarians who diagnose it in time can manage the symptoms through various medications and hormone replacement therapy that will last the rest of Rover’s life. So, as soon as you witness trembling along with a sudden onset of laziness, take him to the vet as soon as possible.

Old age

The older Rover gets, the more likely it is for him to develop a condition that could cause him to tremble. Or, it could simply be that is brain is beginning to deteriorate, and it is affecting his nervous system and motor function. This internal breakdown may be the only reason that he is shaking. Muscles weaken, hind legs threaten to fail, and arthritis settles in, sometimes making it too painful to romp around the yard or even jump up into your lap.

Old dog

It is often difficult for owners to wrap their minds around the fact that 10 to 12 years is a long and full life for dogs (in the case of the Irish Wolfhound, long beyond life expectancy). Your veterinarian cannot by any means slow the aging process, but she should be able to provide you with medication or other therapies that will ease the pain, reduce the amount of trembling, and make those last few years much more bearable for the both of you.

So, what it is?

As you have seen, there are many reasons your dog may be trembling. It may just be that he is happy to see you, but it is usually a sign that there is something that requires your attention. Pooches do have emotional problems, and they can be corrected over time either through training or with medication. Medical issues, on the other hand, are not easy to decipher nor are they easy to treat once they are discovered. You should always pay close attention to Rover’s shivers, identify what may be causing them, at take action as soon as you can.

Hopefully, this article will give you some insight on what to look for. Remember that, when in doubt, always seek the advice of your veterinarian. That one call might save his life.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • Angela Pickles

    My friend is crate training her 3 year old Lab who hates coming out of her crate. When she does come out, she trembles a lot. One time when it was time for the dog to take a bath, she peed on the floor and started shaking for hours. Is there an explanation for this? Or is my friend’s dog having health issues?

    • Yes, I believe your fur baby needs some medical attention. Its episodes are becoming worse, and it can be something that requires further medical intervention.

  • Robin James

    Very often people don’t care about their dog’s trembling, vainly. Sometimes he does it because of cold or after the water, but sometimes it can be caused by serious problems with his health. Take care of your pets and please, be attentive to them!

  • Trembling can range from mild to severe health issues so I would really recommend a quick visit to the veterinarian especially if the trembling becomes more and more frequent.

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