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My Dog is Shaking and Trembling | Causes and Treatment

Picture of a Boston Terrier on a Bed

There are many things that can cause a dog to tremble or shiver. But what are the most common reasons for this to happen? What treatment is there for the issue? Read the answers to these questions below.

Common causes why your dog might be shivering

1. Poisoning
Shivers or tremors can be a result of poisoning, and this manifestation typically indicates that the dog is suffering from heart problems or that the poison has a neurological effect. Some of the toxic substances that can cause seizures in dogs are xylitol, chocolate, insecticides, household cleaners, fertilizers, rat poison, grapes, as well as some human medications (such as the ever-popular ibuprofen, for example).
If you have the slightest suspicion that your dog has ingested a toxic substance, call the ASPCA Poison Control or get in touch with your veterinarian as soon as possible. In some cases, inducing vomiting can be rather helpful, but in others, doing so might not solve the issue. For example, if your dog eats chocolate and some time has passed since he’s done so, you might want to use activated charcoal to absorb the stomach contents instead of making your dog vomit.

2. High body temperature or fever
Both an increase and a decrease in body temperature can cause tremors. If your dog has a fever, you might notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Shaking
  • Lethargy
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite

Since it can be rather challenging to tell whether your canine friend has a fever just by touching him, you can try to measure his rectal temperature. The normal body temperature of a dog is within the range of 100.0 and 102.5 degrees F. If the rectal temperature is higher than 103 degrees, your dog has a fever and you should get in touch with a vet soon.

3. Hypothermia
Cold climates can affect dogs just as much as they affect humans. There are some short-haired breeds that handle the cold a lot poorer compared to their longer-haired counterparts. Chihuahua and Dachshund are two of them. By trembling, your dog is effectively raising his body temperature. If you are the pet parent of a short-haired breed, it might be a good idea to take your dog out with a sweater and dog boots.

4. Fear or excitement
While it is less common compared to some of the other causes, it’s true that dogs can get overly excited and when they do, they might shiver in anticipation. Some dogs are known for shivering when they reach the vet’s office, for example, and they do so because of the fear that they feel. Some of the other things that can stress a dog out range from riding in a car to lack of exercise and pretty much any type of negative experience.

5. Diarrhea or vomiting
If your canine friend has an upset stomach, he might shiver prior to having diarrhea or vomiting. Once the contents in the stomach or intestines have been eliminated, the shivering could stop, but you might notice that your dog still feels a little sick. There are lots of home remedies that you can use to prevent your dog from having an upset stomach. Have a talk with your vet about these, or choose to feed your dog a bland diet for several days.

6. GTS (Generalized Tremor Syndrome)
Generalized Tremor Syndrome is a disease that affects the CNS (central nervous system) and that consists of an inflammation of the cerebellum. That’s why it is also called idiopathic cerebellitis. This particular disorder is most commonly encountered in small-breed dogs that have white coats, such as Bichon Frise, Samoyeds, Maltese, as well as West Highland White Terriers.

7. Epilepsy
We’ve written an extensive article about epilepsy in the past, so you might want to read that if you’re interested in this condition. If your dog is known to suffer from this disease, he might experience a so-called status epilepticus, which causes recurring and sudden seizures. Idiopathic epilepsy can be genetic, and some of the breeds among those that are most affected by it are Beagle, Labrador Retriever, Belgian Tervuren, or Golden Retriever. Epilepsy needs to be treated with medication and care, so veterinary assistance is always required for the appropriate treatment.

8. Canine Distemper
Canine distemper is a viral disease that most commonly affects puppies, as well as adolescent dogs who haven’t been vaccinated against it. Puppies are extremely sensitive to it, and they can develop a host of clinical symptoms affecting the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous system. The dog can also sneeze or cough, have mucus coming out of his nose or eyes, or experience fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and of course, shivering.

9. Chronic renal failure
Twitching and trembling can be one of the many clinical signs that describe kidney disease. Unfortunately, kidney pathologies are usually diagnosed when it’s almost always too late. The dog might also experience incontinence, lethargy, seizures, bad breath, as well as a decrease in appetite and an increase in water consumption.

10. Old Age
Old dogs can tremble once in a while just like humans do. Trembling in the legs is most common, and shivering in senior dogs can be attributed to arthritis or weakness. Don’t presume that if your dog is old, the shaking and trembling is only due to old age. It could also be caused by endocrine problems or kidney disease, so it needs to be investigated clinically.

Diagnosis

The diagnostic tests that need to be performed can vary broadly because there are so many causes of tremors. The animal’s history, a physical exam, as well as a neurological exam all represent the first step.
The vet can consider the dog’s genetic background, the breed, the age, the travel history, as well as his vaccination history. Even the diet and possible exposure to poisons need to be taken into account. As difficult as it might be, whenever your dog experiences a trembling or shaking episode, you might have to shoot video of it so that you can show it to the vet later on.

Some of the advanced tests that can be performed at the vet clinic range from an MRI to nerve and muscle biopsies.

Treatment

Treatments for tremors and shaking in dogs can vary a lot depending on the cause, and some of the causes may not even be treatable. General tremor syndrome can be treated with corticosteroids, sedatives, or pain relievers, but genetic abnormalities might not be treatable or manageable in any way. Typically, your dog will be administered muscle relaxants, pain medication, or sedatives to treat the immediate symptoms while the cause is still being determined. Meanwhile, the dog needs to be kept well hydrated, warm, and fed as he/she starts to recover.

How can you help a shivering dog?

If you suspect that your dog is shivering from the cold, you can just bring him to a warmer place or allow him to wear a sweater. Shaking episodes can be caused by fear, excitement, or nervousness, so eliminating the cause of the stress can solve the issue.

A homemade bland dog diet can soothe your dog’s tummy if he has vomiting and diarrhea and has been experiencing shaking, as well.

Any other causes of shaking and trembling call for a visit to the vet’s office as you can’t know for sure what’s causing the symptoms and whether your dog has an allergic reaction, has ingested any toxin, or is experiencing low calcium levels (which can happen in nursing dogs). Your dog can also suffer from electrolyte imbalances, endocrine problems, old age, as well as seizures.

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