Pet Health Library

Shaking: Causes and Treatments

Background

Dogs shake for a variety of reasons, some of which indicate a physical or emotional state of being, and some of which indicate a veterinary emergency. Shaking or shivering should not be confused with seizures, which are sudden neurological events that cause involuntary muscle movements and may result in your dog becoming unresponsive.

Risk Factors

Below are common causes of shaking or shivering in dogs:

  • Addison’s Disease – also known as hypoadrenocorticism, Addison’s disease occurs when there is an underproduction of the steroid hormones called cortisol and aldosterone by the adrenal glands. This hormonal deficiency can result in low blood sugar and abnormal levels of potassium and sodium in the blood. It is common for dogs with Addison’s disease to shake or tremble in addition to experiencing weakness and lethargy.
  • Arthritis or Joint Pain – arthritis refers to the inflammation of one or more joints. The most common type of arthritis in dogs and cats is osteoarthritis, in which the cartilage lining the end of the bones deteriorates, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness where the bones rub together. Trembling is a sign that can indicate a dog is experiencing pain as a result of arthritis. Pain scales have been validated for dogs and cats as an objective measure of pain and response to treatment.
  • Bloat – also known as gastric dilatation and/or volvulus (GDV), bloat is a life-threatening condition in which a dog’s stomach fills with gas and in many cases twists on itself. A common sign of bloat is called abdominal distention in which the dog’s abdomen appears larger than normal or swollen. Signs of abdominal distention alongside restlessness, retching, salivating, or trembling can indicate a dog is experiencing bloat.
  • Cold – shivering can occur if a dog is feeling cold. When this happens, the dog’s body attempts to generate heat through rapid muscle contractions. However, it should be noted that it is uncommon for a dog experiencing hypothermia (overexposure to cold) to shiver.
  • Fear or Anxiety – fear occurs in response to a perceived threat, whereas anxiety occurs when a dog anticipates a threat. Shaking or trembling is a common bodily reaction in a dog experiencing either of these emotions.
  • Fever – a fever is an abnormally high body temperature. A true fever in a dog is a body temperature ranging from 103 to 106°F (39.5 to 41.1°C). Fevers may be accompanied by shivering as the body attempts to
  • Hypocalcemia – hypocalcemia is a condition in which there is a low level of calcium in the blood. This condition sometimes occurs after a dog has given birth due to the large amount of calcium required to produce milk for the newborn puppies. A postpartum dog exhibiting signs such as nervousness, panting, stiffness, or whole body tremors may be experiencing low blood calcium also called eclampsia or puerperaltetany.
  • Hypoglycemia – hypoglycemia is a condition in which an animal has extremely low blood sugar. Low blood sugar levels can result in a dog experiencing vomiting, weakness, muscle spasms, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, a seizure or coma.
  • Pain – shaking may be a clue that a dog is painful after an injury or surgical procedure
  • Toxin Ingestion – exposure or ingestion of certain toxins can result in shaking or shivering. For example, the sugar substitute xylitol causes a rapid release of insulin in the body, resulting in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) which can lead to whole body tremors as a result. Other food toxins that can result in tremors include chocolate, macadamia nuts, and raisins and grapes. Accidental ingestion or exposure to certain medications, pesticides, snail bait, moldy food or compost, and antifreeze can also result in shaking.

Treatment

When to see a veterinarian:

Unless a dog appears to be shaking for an obvious reason that can be remedied quickly, such as exposure to cold weather, shaking is an indication that the dog should see their veterinarian. Certain causes for shaking, such as bloat or toxin ingestion, are emergencies and should be handled by an urgent trip to the ER.

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