Why Does My Dog Tremble?

Photo Credit: Have you ever watched your dog tremble or shiver in warm weather and wondered why? While it’s tempting to think that trembling and shivering are always a result of being too cold, such is not the case. Here’s a list of causes to consider.

  1. Thermoregulation (temperature control): Shivering is a very effective means of creating body heat, and is a normal response to decreasing body temperature. When a dog has a fever the body’s thermostat is reset to a higher temperature. When the temperature attempts to drop back down to normal, shivering occurs in an attempt to restore the new, elevated temperature set point.
  1. Excitement/Anxiety/Fear: All of these emotional responses are capable of evoking trembling in some dogs. Without the help of anti-anxiety medication, one of my dogs becomes a quaking, quivering mess during thunderstorms.
  1. Pain: Trembling can accompany pain, whether due to acute trauma or a more chronic painful condition. Be aware that not all dogs demonstrate trembling in response to pain. Trembling is simply one of several symptoms a painful dog may exhibit.
  1. Medical disease: A variety of underlying medical issues, ranging from kidney failure to hormonal imbalances, can produce trembling. Neurological disorders and muscle diseases commonly cause trembling.
  1. Toxins: A variety of toxins cause trembling as one of the earliest neurological symptoms. Some examples include chocolate, antifreeze, and snail bait.
  1. Muscle weakness: Atrophy or weakness of muscles, particularly those in the hind legs, often causes trembling. This is likely the reason that hind leg trembling is so common in older dogs.
  1. Small dog trembling: For many very small dogs, trembling appears to be just a normal fact of life. Theories abound as to why, but none have been documented to be true. Be forewarned, if you get a very small dog, you will likely observe a trembling very small dog from time to time. This is certainly the case with my little Nellie girl who weighs in at 11 pounds.

What to do if you observe that your dog is trembling

Trembling is always cause for concern, particularly if it is out of character for what you know to be normal for your dog. If you observe trembling, a good first step is to determine if something in the environment is causing your dog to feel anxious or fearful. If so, try to eliminate the source of the stress or remove your dog from the situation to see if the trembling abates.

Also inspect the environment for any potential toxins. If found, take your dog along with the toxin container to your veterinary clinic right away.

Another good first step is to take your dog’s temperature (the normal range is 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit). The presence of a fever warrants veterinary attention.

If your dog does not appear anxious or fearful and his or her body temperature is normal, I encourage you to contact your veterinarian if:

  • The trembling is getting worse.
  • The trembling continues for more than an hour or two.
  • You observe any other symptoms such as lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, labored breathing, etc.
  • You identify a potential toxin in the environment that your dog may have accessed.

As is true for most medical issues, the sooner the cause of your dog’s trembling is identified and properly addressed, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome.

Do you have a dog who trembles? If so, have you been able to identify the cause?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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3 Comments on “Why Does My Dog Tremble?

  1. I have a 9-year-old sheltie who trembles when we go to the vet which is not surprising, but he also trembles if we go anywhere–especially someplace new. I wish there was something I could do to help him with his anxiety. I’ve had him since he was young, and he has never experienced any abuse or trauma, but he missed out on his introduction to new things & places during his first 3 months and never caught up.

  2. Thank you for your article on trembling. My super agility dog a Jack Russell has trembled most of his life under varied conditions on and off. He has been sound and healthy. It has increased a bit. I notice he does it more when he is excited. I think it is a way of a dog burning off excess energy.

  3. My 13 year old retired race bred whippet’s back legs tremble occasionally when her muscles become tight. After I massage her lower back and thighs for about 5 minutes the trembling stops. I also take her to a dog massage therapist, once a month, after which the trembling stops for about two weeks. Now she is able to let me know when
    when she wants a massage by poking my arm and standing very still beside me.

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