Dog Shaking: What It Means & What to Do

dog shaking

Have you noticed your dog shaking and aren’t sure what it means or what you need to do to help him? As a dog owner, it can be perplexing when you begin to see your dog acting abnormally and aren’t sure what is triggering the behavior or what steps you should be taking to get him help. Trembling or shaking in dogs can be symptomatic of a number of different causes and determining the underlying condition is essential in making sure your dog receives proper treatment. Below is an introductory guide that will walk you through shaking in dogs and discuss the possible underlying causes.  

Shaking in Dogs: What It Can Mean

Shaking in dogs can be indicative of a number of different potential factors ranging from completely normal behaviors to serious medical conditions. In order to deduce which of these may apply to your dog, it’s vital to be observant of his symptoms and the context. Below are a handful of potential causes of shaking in dogs.

Shaking Off Water

Have you ever seen a dog come out of a swimming pool or a bath only to do a powerful full-body shake? Dogs harness the force of their bodies to vigorously shake the water off of their coats. As a human being, this action can sometimes appear wild as their cheeks shake back and forth and their entire coat appears to move side to side aggressively, but for dogs, this is a survival mechanism that helps to prevent the onset of hypothermia from a wet coat.

Since dogs don’t have blow dryers or towels, they rely on this powerful shaking mechanism to quickly and efficiently dry their coats, which for some dogs are incredibly dense. Wet dogs can actually shake off seventy percent of the water on their fur in roughly four seconds. If your dog has wet fur and is shaking much more than normal, it’s a behavior that is learned over time and adapted to help them stay dry. Your dog should stop shaking once he has dispelled the excess water from his coat. If the behavior persists, there may be another cause for their shaking.

Controlling Body Temperature

Just like humans, shivering may occur when dogs are cold or hot. Shaking in dogs may also be a sign of thermoregulation, which is how the body controls its temperature. Just like shivering helps to control the body temperature of human beings, it serves the same function in canines. Shivering helps the body generate body heat and is triggered when the body recognizes that its temperature is falling outside the range of its desired threshold.

This reaction can occur when the body temperature is becoming too high and the dog has a fever or when his temperature is dropping too low and the body is warding off hypothermia. Think of shivering as the body’s way of helping get its temperature back to normal, similar to how you would adjust your thermostat if a room became too hot or cold. Once your dog’s body temperature returns to normal, the shivering should cease. If the behavior continues, veterinary intervention may be required to determine if any type of treatment is needed.

Shaking with Joy/Excitement

One of the most well-known characteristics of dogs is their ability to have fun and express joy. For some dogs, their expression of joy and excitement may include shaking and trembling. Dogs can’t show emotion in the same way that a human does so they have to utilize other means to convey what they are feeling. A dog may shake with excitement at the prospect of a long walk with his owners or a playdate with a fellow pup. The shaking and/or trembling should be temporary and subside when the excitement wears off. If it persists, there may be another reason for the shaking and a physical examination by a veterinarian may be needed.

Shaking Due to Stress/Fear

Just as dogs can shake when they feel joy and excitement, they can also display shaking as a response to stress and fear. This type of shaking will present very differently than joyful shaking and is an indication that the dog is feeling anxious or stressed about something around them or happening to them. Common triggers for stress-induced shaking include fireworks, thunderstorms, their owners leaving for an extended period of time, and going to the vet.

Depending on the dog and his unique personality, there can be any number of potential triggers for stress or fear-induced shaking. These periods of stress-induced shaking may also have other accompanying behaviors, such as being destructive to items in the dog’s immediate surroundings, canine crying, or aggressive behaviors. Some breeds are more prone to anxiety, but it also depends on the personality and behavioral traits of the individual pup.

Some dogs may be able to overcome stress-induced shaking by working with their owner and a trainer to find other methods for dealing with stress and anxiety. However, depending on the severity of the stress and shaking, some dogs may require an appointment with a veterinarian who will examine them and recommend any medications or treatments that may help to ease the stress that is triggering the shaking.

Ear Infections

All dog breeds are susceptible to ear infections, whether they are bacterial or yeast canine ear infections. Some dog breeds are more prone to developing ear infections based on the structure of their ears. Dog breeds that are susceptible to these infections include Basset Hounds, Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, and Golden Retrievers. One indication that a dog may have an ear infection is persistent head shaking. Head shaking can also be indicative of a number of other conditions, but ear infections are one of the most common causes.

When dogs are suffering from an ear infection, their ears can appear inflamed, irritated, red, and may have some type of discharge. To alleviate their discomfort, they will often shake their heads vigorously back and forth, which can cause further issues to develop due to trauma or injury. Repeatedly shaking their heads back and forth can cause the delicate blood vessels in the ear to break and blood to pool, forming a hematoma inside the flap of the ear. If you think your dog may have an ear infection that is causing them to shake, visit a veterinarian so that they can perform an exam, inspect the ears, and conduct any tests to make a diagnosis and form a treatment plan.

Distemper

Distemper in dogs is a condition that is caused by a virus and commonly occurs in puppies or younger canines that have not received all of their vaccinations. Symptoms of canine distemper include fever, canine coughing, eye and nose discharge, and tremors, as well as other symptoms. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and the dog, a variety of different treatment methods may be used, such as prescription antibiotics, physical therapy, airway dilators, and fluids to prevent dehydration. If you are concerned that your dog may be suffering from distemper, it is vital to visit a veterinarian as soon as possible so that they can assess them and recommend the most suitable treatment plan.

Generalized Tremor Syndrome (GTS)

GTS is a condition that is from an unknown cause and was first observed in small, white dogs such as West Highland White Terriers and Maltese, though it can affect dogs of any breed, size, or color. GTS is also sometimes called white shaker dog syndrome and steroid responsive tremor syndrome. Symptoms of GTS, such as shaking and trembling, usually begin between nine months and two years of age. To treat GTS, veterinarians will often prescribe corticosteroids, such as prednisone, and dogs will often see noticeable results within one week of beginning treatment.

Nausea

Just as human beings sometimes experience nausea, so do dogs. There are many potential reasons why a dog may feel nauseous, such as if he has eaten something that upset his stomach, eaten something poisonous, gotten motion sickness, or taken a new medication. In addition to these commonplace causes, dog nausea can also be a side effect of some diseases.

When some dogs are feeling nauseous, they may begin to tremble and shake. Other common symptoms include salivating excessively, swallowing more than normal, smacking of the lips, restlessness, yawning, hiding, and vomiting in dogs. If you think your dog is nauseous and shaking as a result, it is important to identify what is triggering the nausea. A visit to the veterinarian should help narrow down the likely causes and provide your dog with a treatment plan to alleviate nausea as soon as possible.

Poisoning

Some dogs can begin to shake and tremor if they have ingested or been exposed to certain poisons, such as a chemical or poisonous plant. Some of these toxins are completely safe for human beings, but can be extremely dangerous for canines. In these cases, the shaking would likely be uncontrollable. Additional symptoms of poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, drooling, seizures, weakness, and disorientation. If you believe your dog may have been poisoned, call your veterinarian immediately and contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. It is vital that your dog receives immediate veterinary medical attention to combat the poisoning.

Kidney Disease

Another possible culprit for shaking in dogs can be chronic kidney disease or renal failure. Kidney disease in dogs can be difficult to detect because many canines may not display symptoms for quite a while, but over time dogs will usually begin to drink more water and urinate more frequently. In addition to these symptoms, some dogs may also begin to shake as the damage to their kidneys worsen. While renal disease in dogs is not curable, there are therapy and treatments that can help to control the symptoms and improve the dog’s quality of life for as long as possible. If you think your dog may be suffering from chronic kidney disease or renal failure, visit a veterinarian as soon as possible to get your dog examined and tested to assess his kidney function.

What To Do If Your Dog Is Shaking

If your dog is shaking, there are several steps you can take to make sure that they get the help they need. Below are a few steps of what to do if your dog is shaking.

  • Think back to when the shaking began. One of the first questions to ask yourself if your dog is shaking is when did it begin. Has your dog only been shaking the last week or has it been intermittent over the course of several months? Pinpointing when the shaking began will help you narrow down if there was an event that triggered the shaking and will give you an answer to a common question veterinarians ask during examinations.
  • Pay attention to the context when your dog is shaking. Since some of the triggers for shaking in dogs can be environmental and mood-based, it’s important to understand the context of when your dog is shaking. Are they only shaking persistently when they are in a stressful situation? Is it limited to when they are wet? Has their shaking been consistent since its onset? These details will also be useful for a veterinarian if a visit is required as it will help them to make a more accurate diagnosis.

It is highly recommended to make an appointment with a licensed veterinarian if the shaking persists. If your dog is shaking and you aren’t sure why, it is always better to err on the side of caution and make an appointment with a veterinarian. A veterinarian will be able to gather all of the information you supply about the timeline and symptoms, as well as perform a physical examination and any additional testing that may be needed to develop a diagnosis and subsequent treatment plan.

 

Sources:

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

“Why Is My Dog Shaking?” Pet Health Network, www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-behavior/why-my-dog-shaking.

Ryan, Maureen. “My Dog Is Shaking: 8 Possible Reasons.” PetCareRx, 12 Nov. 2013, www.petcarerx.com/article/my-dog-is-shaking-8-possible-reasons/1458.

“Dog Shivering or Trembling: Causes and Treatments.” WebMD, pets.webmd.com/dogs/my-dog-shivering-trembling#1.

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