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Why is my dog shaking?

Why is my dog shaking?
Learn About Dogs

Dogs tell us an awful lot through their body language. Even though we’d all love it if they could talk to us verbally, we must try and understand what they’re attempting to communicate through their bodies.

Of course, humans are mostly reliant on communicating verbally, so working out what our dog’s body language means can be tricky and will take a bit of guesswork.

Shaking is pretty normal for dogs - they might be demonstrating this behaviour for various dif-fur-ent reasons. Typically, shaking and shivering isn’t anything to be concerned about, however, it’s good to be clued up on why they could be doing it just in case it’s linked to anything a bit more serious.

Cold chills

We all know that feeling, a cold winter’s day and you think you’ve wrapped up nice and warm, but somehow the chill still finds a way in. You can see your breath in the air, your teeth are chattering and your whole body is shaking.

Why do dogs shake

Shaking and shivering due to the cold weather is just an automatic, involuntary reaction that both people and pooches have. When the muscles tense and loosen really quickly this causes the shaking motion, and it works to get the blood pumping throughout the body to increase temperature. As a result, this helps to prevent the onset of hypothermia.

Hypothermia occurs when your dog’s body temperature hits an abnormal low point, anything below 37°C is cause for concern in dogs. If you think your pup is shivering to an extreme level, amongst other symptoms such as being lethargic, decreased heart rate and feeling cold to touch, you must take them to the vet immediately.

Are some breeds more likely to get the chills?

Dainty dogs such as Chihuahuas are much more likely to shake from the cool air because of their tiny size. Weighing in at a minuscule 1.5-3kg, the Chihuahua is the smallest of all the dog breeds, and this lack of body mass means they struggle immensely to retain any form of heat.

Alongside this, they’re energetic little pups with a speedy metabolism, meaning they quickly burn off their bounds of energy and lose any heat they’ve got stored in their pocket-sized physique.

Sighthound breeds are also prone to getting a case of the shivers, such as Whippets and Greyhounds. Sighthounds are slick and slender, normally having a very thin coat. This means they’re quick to get the chills.

Some pooches just feel the cold more than others, and it’s nothing really to worry about. If you find that your furry friend is always freezing, get a cosy coat or a little doggy jumper for them to wear out on a walk.

When they come back home, ensure they can retire to a cosy corner to have a snooze. Provide them with a blanket to snuggle under on cold, winter nights.

Wash and blow dry

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If your dog has just had a bath, or they’ve been for a doggy paddle somewhere on a walk, they’ll need to have a big shake off to remove all the excess water on their coat.

Dogs shake off as a natural reflex. It helps to prevent hypothermia, as they actually get around 70% of the water off of their coat during one simple, speedy shake off.

Why is my dog shaking

If you’ve just given your pooch a pamper in the bath, you probably won’t even have the op-paw-tunity to grab a towel before they’ve absolutely soaked you and your surroundings.

To be honest, your dog can do a much more effective job than a towel dry. Just be prepared for a shower yourself!

Excitement

Opening the door after a day at work to be met with a dog that’s uncontrollably excited to see you will definitely warm your heart.

You might notice that your pooch shakes and trembles when they’re greeting you or when they know they’re going for a walk. This is nothing to be worry about, your pooch is just excited!

We don’t really know why dogs shake when they’re excited, it’s just a common canine way of displaying extreme emotion. Younger dogs are the ones that often demonstrate excited trembling as they haven’t yet grasped the concept of self-control. This behaviour might subside as your dog grows older, however, there are some that are extremely lively, energetic pooches with bounds of energy.

Even though there are absolutely no dangers in this behaviour, as the shaking will subside as they calm back down, you may want to curb it. Your pooch might be prone to getting hyperactive and overstimulated, so you want to start teaching them self-control.

Keep your greetings as calm as possible (this is extremely hard as it’s tricky to not be overly excited to greet your dog yourself). Training your dog to sit down when you walk through the door can also be beneficial in helping them maintain some level of calm.

Firework fear

Here we have another intense emotion that gets our canines quivering. Bonfire night rolls around and the fireworks begin in full force. Fireworks, thunderstorms and being left home alone are common things that terrify a large pro-paw-tion of the pooch pup-ulation.

Although shaking in this way doesn’t cause any harm, you don’t want your dog to be stressed or fearful. Trembling from fear or anxiety can often be accompanied by behaviours such as pacing, panting, whimpering, whining and hiding. This will definitely be enough to tug at your heartstrings.

Many dogs display this behaviour, but you must try and address it. Figure out the trigger of the anxiety and persistently reassure your dog through lots of paw-sitive reinforcement, tasty treats and constant cuddles. Many dogs will hugely benefit from either of these welcome distractions. Also, stay calm yourself as dogs can pick up on our emotions and imitate them.

In more extreme cases, you may need to start a gradual desensitisation process. This involves slowly exposing your dog to the trigger that is causing them to tremble, alongside lots of paw-sitive reinforcement and tasty treats.

For example, for a dog that’s afraid of fireworks, play an audio clip of fireworks incredibly quietly to your pooch, constantly giving them rewards and praise if they don’t react. Over time, you’ll be able to gradually build up the volume and length of time you can play the audio for.

This method is extremely effective, especially for dogs with a mild fear, but it will take a lot of time, patience and understanding from you.

If you can’t solve the problem alone, enlisting the help of a behaviourist may be a good option, especially if your dog encounters the trigger in everyday life.

Attention

This one can sometimes be a consequence of shaking out of fear. Don’t underestimate your pup, they know exactly how to get you wrapped around their little finger (paw).

If your dog shakes due to fear, from thunderstorms for example, they might start to click on that when they shake, you dash to them with strokes, cuddles and even treats.

This isn’t exactly damaging behaviour, but you might start to notice your dog switches on the shakes to get some sympathy or a little snack. The main thing to do in this situation is to completely ignore your dog if they start to tremble (when there’s no cause), especially if they’re doing it at completely random intervals.

Sweet dreams

Everyone is guilty of zoning out and watching their dog while they sleep just because it’s so endearing. And you might even be feeling overwhelmed with gratitude that they’ve actually decided to take a nap instead of running you ragged.

You may notice that during their doze your dog might bark, whimper, twitch and shake. This likely means that your dog is dreaming, possibly of running around fields all day, playing with toys or tucking into some delicious food. Whatever it is, they may shake and twitch, which is totally normal.

Why is my dog shaking

When we sleep and dream, we display very similar behaviour. This is because both us and our dogs experience rapid eye movement (REM) which is a stage of sleeping connected to dreaming.

Medical concerns

If your dog is shaking, make sure to rule out any medical concerns. Tremoring and shaking can be signs of a medical issue that could be incredibly detrimental to your pet’s health - for example, canine distemper, a common virus in younger pups that haven’t had all their vaccines.

Addison’s disease, hypoglycaemia and inflammatory brain disease are also potential triggers for your dog’s strange shaking.

Keep a close eye on your dog, looking for any other symptoms that could indicate an underlying illness. If the shaking is a new, peculiar behaviour, it’s strongly advised to contact your vet, even more so if it’s accompanied by other strange signs.

Generalised tremor syndrome (shaker syndrome) is another potential reason for the incessant tremors, which causes your pooch to involuntary shake in a repetitive, rhythmic manner, normally throughout the whole body.

Currently, the causes of this disorder are unknown, but it was first commonly noticed in small, white pups such as the Maltese and West Highland White Terrier. Luckily, this is generally pretty easy to treat.

Ear infections

Any dog can be susceptible to an ear infection, however it tends to be those with the long, floppy ears that bear the brunt of it. Think Basset Hound and Cocker Spaniel type ears.

If you spot your dog shaking their head and flapping those droopy ears from side to side, they might be suffering from an ear infection. A quick head shake provides a momentary relief from the itchiness.

Water entering the ear canal is a common cause of an ear infection so be aware of this when you give your pooch a bath or if they treat themselves to a doggy paddle. Make sure to dry their ears thoroughly to prevent the onset of infection.

Nausea

If your dog is feeling sick, they may begin to tremble. During car journeys, many dogs feel a bout of motion sickness causing your dog to salivate, foam at the mouth, yawn, lick and even shake.

If your pooch does suffer from that horrible feeling of sickness when they get in the car, they may begin to feel a sense of anxiety about getting in the car, even if you were planning on taking them for a nice, long walk.

Consequently, your dog might start shaking before they get into the car, pre-empting the feeling of nausea. This links to the previous point of dogs shaking out of fear, anxiety and stress.

Poisoning

Our curious canines often get themselves into a spot of bother when they decide to steal and eat something that wasn’t theirs.

Many items that we consume regularly are actually toxic for our pups, such as chocolate and an ingredient called xylitol, which is an ingredient used as a substitute for sugar in several chewing gums.

Many plants and flowers that are classic components of people’s gardens are also toxic to dogs, so it’s im-paw-tent to be clued up on what plants are poisonous for your pooch.

Poisoning can show itself through various symptoms, including shakes and tremors. Other signs include disorientation, weakness, drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea. If you suspect that your dog has eaten something toxic, or if they’re already suffering with symptoms, it’s crucial to consult your vet immediately.

Old age

When our dogs reach old age, they sadly become more susceptible to various ailments. If you have a senior pooch, you may notice that they’ve started tremoring, especially in their hind end.

As our dogs age, their muscles weaken (just as ours do) which can cause your dog to shake.

This also may be a sign that your dog is suffering from joint pain and arthritis a common degenerative condition that dogs often encounter in their old age.

If you think this is the case and that your pup could be in pain, consult a vet to see what the best options are to treat it. Your vet may recommend physiotherapy to strengthen their muscles such as hydrotherapy, or even massage to ease the stiffness and pain.

Shaking vs seizures

You will be able to tell the difference between a shake or shiver to a seizure. A seizure occurs when the muscles seize up, causing your dog to twitch, jerk, collapse and become unaware of their surroundings. If your dog is just shaking, they’ll still be responsive to what you’re saying and it won’t be as violent in appearance as a seizure.

Dogs can suffer from epilepsy just as humans do, repeated seizures could be a sign of this condition. If your pooch has never had a seizure before, take them to the vet immediately to determine what has triggered it.

Recap

If you can’t pinpoint what’s causing your dog’s shaking, you must contact the vet to rule out any causes that could be detrimental to their health, especially so if they’ve never displayed this behaviour before.

A large pro-paw-tion of the time, your dog’s shaking can probably be pinned down to a certain trigger or emotion, such as excitement, anxiety, fear, even just feeling chilly. Most of these won’t be a big worry and won’t really have any serious impact.

Shaking can tell us quite a lot about our dog, as can other forms of body language, so try and always keep an eye on what your pooch is trying to communicate.

Sources
  1. Wet mammals shake at tuned frequencies to dry Journal of the Royal Society, Interface, 9 (77), August 2012, 3208–3218, doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2012.0429
  2. Effectiveness of treatments for firework fears in dogs Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 37, June 2020, 61-70, doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2020.04.005

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