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Health & care

Why is my dog shaking?

Date updated: 20 09 2018

Shaking, shivering, tremoring, trembling: dogs can get a little shaky for lots of different reasons. And while most of the time it’s completely normal, it can sometimes be a sign that something’s wrong. Here’s how to tell if those shakes are anything to worry about…

Puppu

The smartest way to get dry
Who needs a towel when a quick shake will do? Dogs have developed their own way of getting themselves dry: it’s efficient, and when they lived out in the wild, it meant having to burn up fewer calories to stay warm. 

By shaking to fling out all those droplets, a dog can get rid of around 70 percent of the water from its fur in four seconds. It might mean a messy bathroom and a nice spray of mud for you, but it’s a pretty impressive trick.

Staying warm and keeping cool
Thanks to their all-weather coats, breeds like German Shepherds, Akitas and Labrador Retrievers can take a winter walk in their stride. Short-haired and hairless dogs are not so great at handling the cold. Also, the smaller the pooch, the more prone they are to the chills, as a result of a bigger surface area to volume ratio (i.e. they have more skin in proportion to their “insides” through which to lose heat). 

Shaking can be a sign that your buddy is struggling with the cold - so shorter walks and a new jacket might be a good idea. Read all about it in our Winter pet care guide.

At the other end of the scale dogs can get sunstroke, heat stroke and even sunburn. So when summer arrives, trembling is a tell-tale sign that your dog is struggling with the heat. Shade, rest and sponging down with plenty of water should help settle it.

Getting excited
When their favourite person in the world walks into the room, or when they see you bringing out their dinner bowl, some dogs will literally shake with excitement (it’s a good way of burning up energy).

It’s not a bad thing in itself; but if your dog is prone to getting a little hyper, you’re best off trying not to encourage that much excitability - so wait until they’ve calmed down before rewarding them with a cuddle. 

Shaking as a sign of stress
Some situations can lead to anxiety in a dog, causing them to tremble with fear. It tends to be accompanied by other signs of anxiety like barking, ears pinned back and tail tucked.

If there’s something new and strange happening (Bonfire Night or thunder, for instance), this type of reaction is expected. It becomes a problem if there are lots of everyday events that bring it on.

This is why habituation is so important: helping your pooch get used to the normal sights and sounds that come with their environment. Along with this comes socialisation: showing your dog how to react to other animals and people without fear or aggression. You can find out more about this in our guide to puppy socialisation.

Shakes or tremors in specific parts of the body
If your dog is shaking their head more than usual, check inside their ears. There might be something in there causing irritation that needs to be removed (like grass seeds). Redness, swelling and discharge are all signs of infection, so if you see any of this, make an appointment with the vet.

As a dog gets older, tremors in one or more limbs can occur. If it’s happening a lot, and especially if there’s limping or dragging of the limb, have it checked out by your vet. Depending on what’s causing it, massage treatment, anti-inflammatories  - and even a change of diet might help to make your buddy more comfortable.

Shaking as a sign of illness
Most of the reasons for shaking are external and short-lived. Once your dog has warmed up, cooled down or calmed down, the shaking goes away.

Sometimes though, shaking can be a symptom that something’s medically wrong. Here are some of the conditions and illnesses that can lead lead to shaking…

  • Skin conditions. Shaking is a common reaction to irritation, which could be due to parasites such as ticks and fleas, infections or allergic reactions. Along with the shakes, your dog might also be scratching more than usual.
  • Seizure disorders. A seizure can show itself in various ways, including tremors, muscle twitching, drooling, chomping, falling to the ground and loss of consciousness.
  • Viruses, bacterial infections and poisoning. In these cases, the shaking might be accompanied by other symptoms such as sudden loss of energy, vomiting, diarrhoea, lip smacking, panting or yawning.
  • Generalised Tremor Syndrome (GTS). This is sometimes called White Shaker Syndrome because it was first identified in the West Highlands Terrier. In fact, it’s been seen in many different breeds. No-one knows what causes it, but symptoms include shaking across the body and rapid eye movement. It usually responds well to corticosteroids.

With many conditions, the earlier you can spot a problem and get medical attention, the better the outcome for your pet (and definitely with poisoning, emergency treatment is a MUST!).

So if your dog is shaking - and especially if that shaking is accompanied by any other symptoms, don’t ignore it. Get it checked out as soon as possible.

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