Dog wrapped in a blanket while looking up

Key takeaway

Dogs of all ages, sizes, and breeds can tremble for many reasons, including fear, stress, anxiety, excitement, pain, and more. Some causes for trembling in dogs are not harmful but must be dealt with training to prevent behavioral issues. In other cases, shaking is a sign of a more serious condition that requires a diagnosis and treatment from a licensed veterinarian.

Many things can lead your furry friend to tremble or shiver, including excitement, stress, pain, fever, being wet, or eating something they weren’t supposed to. It can be concerning at first glance, but a trembling dog is often not a cause for distress. While underlying conditions and other serious illnesses can cause shivering, knowing how to prevent trembling and a few warning signs can keep your dog happy and healthy.

In this guide, we’ll be discussing the potential causes of trembling in dogs and the signs of more serious health ailments. Read on from start to finish to learn more about the subject or use the links below to jump to the sections that interest you.

Graphic of possible causes of trembling dogs

Why Do Dogs Tremble?

There are many reasons why your dog may tremble, including fear, stress, old age, pain, and toxicity—to name a few. Whether they’re shaking due to a thunderstorm or to keep warm, it’s important to recognize when trembling may signal something more serious. Below, we’ll highlight a few of the most common causes of trembling to help you navigate this issue.

Fear, Stress & Anxiety

Trembling is a common response to fear, stress, and anxiety that environmental factors can trigger. This includes thunderstorms, fireworks, people passing by, and loud noises. Shaking is also a great way for dogs to release some pent-up tension caused by stress after certain situations.1 For example, when they’re in an unfamiliar location or around new people dogs may shake.

Certain dog breeds are prone to anxiety due to genetics and breed predisposition, such as lagotto romagnolos, wheaten terriers, Shetland sheepdogs, miniature schnauzers, Spanish water dogs, and mixed-breed dogs. Dogs can also experience feelings of stress and fear due to a traumatic event, a lack of socialization, or old age.

Treating your dog’s anxiety can help reduce the severity of symptoms, including shaking because of fear. If you’re looking to manage your pet’s anxious behavior as soon as possible, you can seek pet telemedicine services from Dutch. We’ll connect you with a licensed veterinarian that’s well-versed in behavioral problems so that you can effectively combat the source at home.

Excitement

There’s nothing like coming home from work and seeing your furry friend jump for joy and shake when they’re excited. Trembling due to excitement is a normal response to overstimulation, allowing your pet to release their extra energy. This can also happen during playtime or when they see something they really like, such as food or toys.

Even though your dog looks cute as they shake excitedly at your arrival or other stimulants, it can cause additional behavioral issues. For example, a dog with separation anxiety may greet their owner or visitors by jumping on them, making walking through the door a challenging and frustrating experience. Dogs that are too aroused may also urinate.

Graphic of 70% of water can be removed from dog’s fur in four seconds

Temperature Regulation

Like humans, dogs tremble or shiver because they’re cold and are trying to warm up. This is an instinctive reaction to cooler temperatures and is meant to get their blood flowing and raise their body’s temperature. If your dog is trembling as a result of cold weather conditions, consider shielding them with a sweater or blanket. However, a trip to the vet may be necessary if they don’t stop shivering once you’ve warmed them up.

Dogs also tremble to dry off their fur after getting wet, which is incredibly effective. According to the American Kennel Club, a dog can shake roughly 70% of the water from its fur in four seconds.2 Make sure to get out of the splash zone after removing your dog from the bath or bringing them back in from a rainy walk.

Old Age

As dogs grow older, they may develop tremors due to weakened muscles in either their front or hind legs. It can also indicate Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD). According to a study published by the Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, tremors and other physical symptoms, including vision impairment and smell disturbances, were a sign of CCD.3 Canine cognitive dysfunction is a condition that resembles Alzheimer’s disease or dementia in humans. While it’s concerning, it’s a common condition that affects many dogs in their lifetimes.

Tremors can also be a symptom of anxiety in older dogs. This can be due to the confusion and stress of cognitive decline, illnesses, or pain.

Pain

Health ailments can cause your dog to be in pain, leading to a wide range of symptoms, including shivering. Whether your dog will tremble or not from an illness will depend on the source. For example, dogs with ear infections will shake their heads excessively to alleviate discomfort temporarily.

If your dog is trembling, look for signs of pain to rule out other conditions. In addition to shaking, pain-related symptoms to watch out for are whining, lethargy, drooling, and panting.

Muscle Weakness

Trembling can be a sign of muscle weakness caused by muscle disorders4, such as:

  • Myopathy: An umbrella term for diseases that damage muscles and muscle tissue. Myopathies can develop from an imbalance in nutrition, injuries, cancer, ingestion of toxins, and metabolic disruptions.
  • Myositis: An inflammatory response in the muscle caused by infections, parasites, and immune-mediated diseases.

Treatment for muscle disorders will depend on the type of disorder your dog has and can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian.

Graphic of dog tremor-inducing toxins

Toxicity

Various substances can cause dogs to experience trembling, from specific medications to food that’s safe for humans. We’ve listed a few tremor-inducing toxins below that should be kept away from your dog to prevent poisoning.

  • Medication
    • Ivermectin
    • 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan)
    • Moxidectin
    • Amphetamines
    • Zolpidem
    • Pseudoephedrine
    • Vilazodone
    • Albuterol
    • Risperidone
    • Diphenhydramine
    • Lamotrigine
    • 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU)
    • Pramipexole
    • Sertraline
    • Baclofen
    • Ibuprofen
  • Food
    • Chocolate
    • Caffeine
    • Xylitol
    • Macadamia nuts
  • Rodenticides and Insecticides
    • Methomyl
    • Metaldehyde
    • Permethrin
    • Disulfoton
    • Bifenthrin
    • DEET
  • Illicit drugs
    • Methamphetamine
    • Cannabis
  • Miscellaneous agents
    • Paintballs
    • Salt dough
    • Tobacco
    • Activated charcoal

If you suspect your dog’s trembling is caused by a toxic substance mentioned above, seek emergency medical attention right away or contact your veterinarian. Consider inserting the name and contact information for Poison Control here.

Generalized Tremor Syndrome (GTS)

Generalized Tremor Syndrome (GTS)5, also known as shaker syndrome and steroid responsive tremors, is a health condition that causes dogs to shake in a specific location or their entire body.

Although GTS can cause any dog to develop tremors, it is primarily observed in small white dogs that weigh less than 33 pounds, like Maltese and poodles. The cause of shaker syndrome remains unknown, but researchers suggest that it’s due to an immune reaction that limits the generation of tyrosine, which is essential for dopamine and norepinephrine production. When these vital neurotransmitters are thrown out of balance, it can lead to shaking.

Treatment for GTS includes corticosteroids (prednisone) that suppress a dog’s immune system. Symptoms should lessen within a week or two and can be discontinued once the tremors have ceased. However, if the tremors come back, your canine will have to start retaking the medication. For tremors that don’t resolve, lifelong treatment will be necessary to manage symptoms and ensure a healthy and happy life.

When To See A Vet

If you notice your dog is trembling, the first step is to assess your pet and their environment, looking for potential triggers. Certain situations where temperature regulation, stress from environmental factors, and excitement are the culprit may not warrant a trip to the vet since they’re generally not a cause for concern. You can contact Dutch for non-emergency situations that cause your dog to tremble. For example, if their shaking is due to a behavioral issue, a Dutch verified vet may recommend anxiety meds for dogs alongside training to minimize symptoms.

There are other moments when trembling indicates something more critical, like toxicity, muscle injuries, and underlying conditions. If the following symptoms are present, it’s a good idea to take your dog to the vet’s office:

  • Pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Panting
  • Limping
  • Hiding, isolating, or reclusive behaviors

Communicating with your vet is key to diagnosing the problem and administering treatment to prevent further complications.

Trembling Dog: Frequently Asked Questions

Seeing a dog tremble can be an alarming sight for many pet parents. To help you determine the next steps, you’ll find answers to the most common questions regarding trembling dogs below.

Why is my dog trembling for no reason?

If your dog is trembling, there’s a reason behind their odd behavior, including:

  • Fear, stress, and anxiety
  • Excitement
  • Temperature regulation
  • Old age
  • Pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Toxicity
  • Generalized tremor syndrome

The only way to find out what’s causing their trembling is with a veterinarian’s help.

Should I be worried if my dog is shaking?

Sometimes, shaking stems from behavioral issues, such as fear, stress, and overstimulation, that require anxiety dog training if it’s affecting your canine’s overall wellbeing. Other causes of trembling in dogs indicate an underlying condition or ingestion of a toxic substance that a veterinarian should check out to impede serious complications.

Why do small dogs shake?

You’ll often see little (under 33 pounds) white dogs shaking because of GTS. However, dogs of any size and color can demonstrate symptoms of shaker syndrome.

Final Notes

There are a variety of reasons for trembling in dogs, most of which are harmless. Still, any changes to your dog’s behavior should be discussed with a vet to identify the root of the problem and create an effective treatment plan. Keep in mind that some dogs are more susceptible to shaking than others.

If your dog’s trembling is caused by anxiety and is triggered by environmental factors, such as a change in surroundings, unfamiliar people, fireworks, and so on, we can help. Get started with Dutch to connect with a high-quality veterinarian that can help you quiet your dog’s anxious mind.

References

  1. Burke, Anna. “Why Do Dogs Shake? Why Is My Dog Shaking?” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 23 May 2018, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-do-dogs-shake/.

  2. Burke, Anna. “Why Do Dogs Shake? Why Is My Dog Shaking?”
  3. Ozawa, Makiko et al. “Physical signs of canine cognitive dysfunction.” The Journal of veterinary medical science vol. 81,12 (2019): 1829-1834. doi:10.1292/jvms.19-0458
  4. Harari, Joseph. “Muscle Disorders in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders-of-dogs/muscle-disorders-in-dogs?query=muscle+weakness.

  5. Smith, Kelly. “ Generalized Tremors: Identifying a White Shaker Dog.” Generalized Tremors: Identifying a White Shaker Dog, https://www.addl.purdue.edu/newsletters/2004/spring/tremors.htm.