Why Do Dogs Shake?

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Some dogs have reputations for shaking, while, for others, it’s a strange occurrence. If you’ve ever noticed your pet vibrating, you may ask, “Why is my dog shaking?”

Generally, speaking, dogs shake. But why do dogs shake? The explanations can range from the banal to highly concerning. How can you be sure if it’s an ignorable habit or a sign to bring your dog to the vet ASAP?

why do dogs shake

In this article, we break down the not-so-serious reasons for your dog’s strange vibrations, as well as more concerning symptoms to look out for.

Let’s dive in.

Good Reasons Why Dogs Shake

Drying Off

Of course, there’s the obvious reason. Anyone familiar with dogs knows how vigorously they shake themselves after a bath or when their coats are wet.

Despite it creating a mess on your floor – and you – there’s nothing dangerous or worrying about a dog shaking off water.

This is a normal response and one that’s in their canine nature. It’s a simple drying mechanism and a surefire way to avoid hypothermia since the action generates heat.

By shaking, dogs can remove 70% of the water from their fur, so they can continue storing heat in the coat.

Excitement

A wonderful thing about dogs is they’re easily excitable, and some dogs shake when they’re eager or happy.

Common sources of excitement are seeing their owners or experiencing new sights, sounds, people, and other dogs.

Dogs may also shake with anticipation, such as when seeing a squirrel or right before going out to play. This is normal and isn’t bad for your dog. It can help lessen the pent-up energy they may be keeping in.

However, as with small children, this can actually increase their energy levels. For dogs with this habit, some behavioral training may be necessary.

Need to Go Outside

If you notice your dog shaking, chances are, they need to relieve themselves. To signal you, they may shake and whimper in front of doors.

If nothing is stopping them from going outside, they may be barred by rain or another external factor.

old dog shaking

Bad Reasons Why Dogs Shake

Reinforcement

When a dog shakes, owners often get concerned and give them attention. While unintended, this type of response can lead to your dog trembling every time they want attention.

If there are no other reasons for your dog to shake, and you’re sure that your dog isn’t suffering from illness, you may want to consider if this shaking is voluntary.

Be more aware of when you give your dog attention. If your dog doesn’t unlearn this behavior, additional training may be necessary.

Low Temperatures

When it’s cold, humans shiver to create body heat. The same is true for dogs. When dogs are cold, they will shiver, especially if they’re a smaller size.

Smaller dogs have a faster metabolism, which translates to a faster loss of body heat. More excitable breeds also tend to have faster metabolisms, meaning they will lose heat faster in exchange for their enthusiasm.

Even still, outside of size, a dog’s coat will also affect their ability to store heat. Dogs with naturally short and smooth coats will store less heat than dogs with coarse, long coats. Dogs that have been styled to have shorter coats will tend to shake more often.

A dog shivering due to cold temperatures is entirely normal and is nothing to be concerned about. Just make sure that you’re keeping your pup warm with a blanket or a layer of clothing.

Strong Emotions

Like humans, dogs also shake when they’re experiencing strong emotions. Feelings like nervousness and fear are common ‘bad’ reasons for a dog to shake.

It may be harder to determine whether your dog is shaking because of behavioral reasons since you’ll have to observe them for a long time.

Each dog will react to situations differently, and it’s important to figure out what is causing their reactions before you address them.

While this can take some practice (putting yourself in your dog’s shoes), determining these triggers is necessary to help your dog live a healthier life.

dog shaking

Anxiety

Dogs get anxious too, and they can develop this for a variety of reasons. Canines that are trembling due to anxiety will behave differently than dogs that are trembling due to discomfort.

Their ears will be pinned back and they will avoid the cause of their distress. Typical anxiety triggers include other dogs – especially those bigger than them – loud noises, and strange people.

Pinning down the cause of your dog’s anxiety can take many attempts. It’s best to keep an eye out for common triggers and how often your dog’s response to the trigger is.

While tremors in response to anxiety aren’t physically harmful to your dog, it’s still unpleasant and worth avoiding. If you have trouble determining and preventing your dog’s negative responses, you can check with a veterinarian or a behaviorist expert.

However, one trick to prevent dog anxiety is to expose them to new experiences when they are young. Exposure will get them used to new stimuli, helping them to react better to different experiences, no matter how stressful.

Sickness

Now we have a more severe explanation; your dog may shake because of pain or sickness.

Common illnesses in dogs that cause tremors are distemper, Addison’s Disease, and generalized tremor syndrome.

Distemper

Distemper is caused by a virus that is spread through the air, or by contact with an affected animal. Distemper doesn’t concern only dogs; it affects other species of wildlife, like wolves, raccoons, and foxes.

Its first symptoms include reddened eyes, a high fever, and watery discharge. In the later stages, distemper will affect the nervous system, causing tremors. When left untreated, these tremors will escalate into fits, seizures, and paralysis.

Distemper cannot be fully treated, and any treatments given are aimed to alleviate symptoms. However, with proper medical care and enough attention, your dog can still heal on their own.

With a weak enough virus strain and a strong enough immune system, your dog may fully recover. Thankfully, vaccines are available for those who want to avoid distemper completely.

why do dogs shake

Addison’s Disease

Also known as hypoadrenocorticism, Addison’s Disease is caused by a lack of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. This lack of hormones is the result of problems with the adrenal glands – two small glands located beside your dog’s kidneys.

There are two types of Addison’s Disease. The first type, called Primary Addison’s Disease, is when your dog’s immune system attacks the adrenal gland.

The second type, called Secondary Addison’s Disease, is caused by an external factor, like a tumor, in the pituitary gland.

Alongside shaking, Addison’s Disease also causes vomiting, poor appetite, dehydration, diarrhea, and a slow heart rate. Addison’s Disease affects dogs of both sexes but is more common in female dogs. Dogs older than about five and a half years of age are more susceptible.

Addison’s Disease is a terrible condition that requires immediate treatment. Thankfully, it develops slowly, giving veterinarians enough time to determine the real cause of the symptoms.

However, because of its slow onset, this syndrome is often confused for different sicknesses. Commonly, dogs are mistakenly diagnosed with less severe illnesses, like nausea and the common cold, delaying their access to proper treatment.

This video goes into more details about Addison’s Disease.

Generalized Tremor Syndrome

GTS is also referred to as Steroid Responsive Tremor Syndrome, or White Shaker Dog Syndrome. As its name implies, this syndrome causes tremors in a dog.

The cause of GTS is still up for debate, but the leading theory is that it’s caused by a mild neurological disorder. Specifically, GTS affects the brain’s cerebellum, which controls coordination and voluntary muscle movement.

Previous data implies that more white dogs suffer from GTS, but recent studies state that the color of a dog doesn’t affect the chances of developing GTS.

Nonetheless, there is a possibility that GTS is a hereditary syndrome; professionals recommend that you avoid breeding dogs with GTS.

Commonly, GTS first appears in dogs aged one to six years old, with its initial appearance often in the younger years. However, there are cases of dogs younger than one-year-old developing GTS.

GTS symptoms include repeated involuntary body tremors. These tremors can affect the whole body, or muscle groups, with a severity that can range from mild to disabling.

Additionally, GTS can also affect eye movements, walking problems, and balance issues. It is not painful, although a lack of muscle control can cause falls, slips, and make it harder for your dog to live their normal lives.

Low Blood Sugar

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is another common reason for tremors in dogs. But how do you know if your dog has low blood pressure?

Keep an eye out for these symptoms:

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • In extreme cases, seizures.

Dogs are more likely to develop low blood sugar if they have been undergoing strenuous activity or if they haven’t eaten recently.

To treat low blood sugar, offer your dog some food that is high in sugar. Because hypoglycemia can cause a lack of appetite, try rubbing a sugary treat, like ice cream or honey, against your dog’s gums.

dog trembling

Other Common Types Of Illnesses

Other common types of illnesses that cause tremors in dogs are colds and poisoning. If you’re used to caring for dogs, you may be familiar with the signs of fever and the cold.

Typical symptoms of the cold are similar to humans; canine temperature indicating fever is higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

Other than this, tremors can be the result of poisoning. Poisoning symptoms include coughing and vomiting of blood, weakness, and a fast heart rate.

There are foods that are perfectly safe for humans, but which are poisonous to your canine friends, so dog-owners should familiarize themselves with these common foods.

Old Age

If you notice your old dog shaking, it’s a typical occurrence. Dogs in old age tend to develop tremors, especially in their legs.

While this is expected, tremors in the legs can be a symptom of pain. Commonly, shaking indicates joint pain and discomfort, as well as muscular dystrophy.


Dogs More Prone to Shaking

Generally speaking, the chances of your dog shaking – outside of emotions and to dry themselves – depend on the size of your dog. As a rule of thumb, smaller dogs will shake more than bigger dogs.

Dogs with a lighter weight will also shake more than bigger dogs. For example, toy breeds, like chihuahuas, have more tremors due to high energy, emotions, and in response to temperature.

When to See Your Vet

If you think your dog’s tremors are caused by something other than common illnesses or in response to low temperatures, be sure to bring them to the vet.

A doctor’s visit is especially important for canines with compromised immune systems, like young puppies or old dogs.

Your veterinarian will diagnose your dog and determine if something more concerning than common illnesses is responsible for your dog’s tremors.

Depending on the severity of your dog’s shaking, your vet may choose to run tests. Standard kinds will include blood tests and urine sampling.

Treating tremors will depend on the cause of the symptoms. Generally, your doctor will provide medications that will alleviate the shaking, which may include sedatives like Valium, steroids, or pain relievers.

This video goes into more detail about dog shaking.

Should You Be Concerned?

Trembling is rarely a cause for concern. Most of the time, dogs tremble because they are feeling an emotion too intensely, they have too much energy, or they’re just plain cold.

However, as a rule of thumb, it’s best to consult a veterinarian if you are unsure of the reason behind your dog’s trembling, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms or if your dog is exhibiting signs of pain or discomfort.

Good pet owners always keep an eye out on the health of their dogs but trembling is typically normal.

Hopefully, this article has helped you be more confident in evaluating your dog’s needs, deciding whether it’s time to schedule a vet visit or continue with the day.


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