Rex started this new thing…. He gets this pitiful look on his face and shakes or trembles when you hold him. And of course, I take the bait, and make all over him like he’s a sad puppy. He eats it up. Small dogs like chihuahua’s are famous for the “pitiful me” shaking (No, Rex isn’t a chihuahua, but he is a smaller breed). It’s an attention seeking behavior that I am all too happy to appease.
Perhaps I sound flippant about Rex’s “condition”, but please don’t misunderstand, I’ve done the research. I have worked with our vet to rule out any negative causes for his shaking. He has been thoroughly examined and x-rayed to make sure nothing physical is triggering it. The trembling is a very occasional “behavior”, and there are no other distressing signs. Rex eats well, drinks well, potty’s well, moves well, plays well, and 99% of the time, he doesn’t shake. The vet and I are pretty sure at this point that he’s just being a brat!
Occasional trembling or shaking is normal. Dogs shake for lots of reasons. They often shake when they’re excited or happy. Some dogs even shake when they have to go potty. It’s normal for a dog to shiver to create body heat and regulate their own temperature. Rex shakes after a bath, even when he is wrapped in a warm towel. Older dogs sometimes shake due to age alone. The diagnosis for why a dog is shaking is sometimes difficult to determine.
Whether your dog is big or small, if they are shaking or trembling, we can’t just assume they are doing it purposely for extra attention. Shaking could be a sign of pain or illness and shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially if it is accompanied by excessive panting and comes on suddenly. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons our dog could be shaking.
General reasons for shaking
He’s cold. Duh! If it’s winter time and it’s cold, your dog could definitely be shivering because he is cold. But if you’re inside and/or in an otherwise warmer environment, temperature is probably not the reason.
Here’s another “Mr. Obvious” reaction… Is your dog nervous, anxious, or stressed? Is there anything in the environment that has changed that perhaps could be triggering his anxiety? New family member? Change in living arrangements?
Is it fear? Fear kind-of overlaps with anxiety in some cases. Perhaps there is a thunder storm on the horizon? Have there been fireworks in your neighborhood as of late? Is it because that scary vacuum cleaner is sitting out in clear sight and could come after him at any second? We may never know for sure, but there could easily be a smell we are unaware of that is unsettling to him. Take a look at your environment and see if there is anything that could be upsetting your pup.
Pain was my big concern. In the beginning, I was so afraid that Rex was in pain and had no way of letting me know where it hurt. Now that he’s been poked, prodded, x-rayed and evaluated, I feel fairly confident that his trembling is more deliberate than a symptom of pain. Of course, there is always that smidgen of doubt… Rex does have a little “quiver” in his back legs when he walks sometimes, so I will forever be cognizant of that.
Illnesses that cause shaking
Many illnesses produce trembling or shaking in your dog. It’s not always because shaking is a specific symptom of a particular disease, but sometimes it is just your dog’s response to what he/she is feeling. However, some illnesses do definitively generate trembling.
There is one very specific illness called “GTS, Generalized Tremor Syndrome” that typically affects small white dogs… like Westies and Maltese. Weird, huh? The symptoms are repetitive, involuntary head and body tremors. The shaking could be very mild or very severe. The cause is relatively unknown, but it is thought to be an autoimmune in origin.
An underlying neurological problem can be the cause of your dog’s trembling. These are problems that stem from your pet’s nervous system, be it the brain, spinal cord, or the nerves themselves. These include a number of brain diseases and seizures disorders, epilepsy, spinal disease or degenerative myelopathy, or Intervertebral Disc disease (IVDD).
Somewhat related to neurological issues in its resulting symptoms, is an electrolyte abnormality. Electrolytes help to control nerve and muscle function. Severely low levels of Phosphate, an important electrolyte in regulating muscle function and metabolism, can cause muscle weakness and neurological symptoms. Electrolyte abnormalities are not common, but can be a consequence of other illness and diseases.
Arthritis is a very common culprit to shaking. The trembling could be simply because of the pain but could also be a sign of muscle atrophy. Awakening stiff joints often brings on trembling legs as well. I just hate that our furry friends sometimes suffer the pain of arthritis.
Many people report their dog shaking as a symptom of Addison’s disease, which is a low production of hormones of the adrenal glands. Other symptoms will accompany the shaking if your dog has Addison’s disease: He may have diarrhea, increased urination, loss of appetite, weight loss, excessive thirst, etc.. Addison’s disease is sometimes called “the great pretender” because it’s symptoms mimic so many other diseases. With exception to occasional diarrhea or loss of appetite, it’s best to see your vet if any other of these symptoms rear their ugly head.
Many of those same symptoms of Addison’s disease are seen when a dog has chronic kidney failure, and that includes shaking, diarrhea, weight loss, lack of appetite and increased thirst. Additionally, a dog with kidney failure may have vomiting, disorientation, lethargy, loss of coordination and other alarming symptoms. Shaking is not the number one symptom, but it is certainly a common one.
Years ago, a neighbor of ours bred their Keeshond dog. Her pen was directly in view of our kitchen window. I noticed the dog shaking uncontrollably and tried to let our neighbors know but they were not home. Finally, my husband and I took it upon ourselves to take the dog to the veterinary. We learned that her calcium level was abnormally low from nursing her pups (termed, hypocalcemia). Severely low calcium levels can be fatal. Fortunately, she was treated just in time.
Similarly, low blood sugar, or “hypoglycemia” can cause a dog to tremble or shake. When the brain does not get a steady supply of glucose, blood sugar drops. The dog may become weak, perhaps disoriented, restless, lose consciousness, etc., as well as shaking or trembling. Low blood sugar can be life threatening, but treatment and management is available.
With better awareness of the importance of vaccinations, Canine Distemper is not seen all that often these days. Puppies and adolescent dogs that have not been vaccinated are mostly at risk. After ravaging the lymphatic and respiratory tract, the disease affects a dog’s central nervous system causing shaking and trembling. Other symptoms include sneezing, coughing, fever, perhaps vomiting and diarrhea. It is usually characterized by watery to thick, puss-like mucus in the eyes and nose.
Other reasons for Shaking
Exposure to several different kinds of toxins and poisons can cause tremors (shaking) in your dog. To name a few: Xylitol, cigarettes, chocolate, rat poison, human prescriptions, etc.. If your dog has been affected by a toxin, he might also drool, appear disoriented and weak, vomit or have diarrhea, and even seizures. Don’t wait to take your dog to the vet if he is trembling and any of these other symptoms are present.
Believe it or not, there are a few very common breeds of dogs that have a genetic predisposition for tremors. Sometimes referred to as “shaker dogs”, these include Weimaraners, Samoyeds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Chows, and several more. Symptoms will first appear during puppy-hood and can range from mild to severe shaking.
Dobermans and English Bulldogs sometimes have “head tremors”. These tremors come and go, and usually do not interfere with the dog’s quality of life.
As we have learned, shaking has many origins, some totally benign, and some life threatening. If your dog is shaking, it’s best not to try and guess. Take them to the vet to rule out any medical reasons for the shaking.
Fingers crossed, you will find your dog’s shaking is simply because he/she is spoiled rotten – like Rex!