- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
You may have noticed your dog shivering—even when it’s hot outside—and wondered, why is my dog shaking? Is it fear, nerves, or something else? A healthy dog can be prone to shaking because they have a thin coat, but sometimes there’s more behind the shaking than just being cold. We turned to California dog behaviorist and trainer, Beverly Ulbrich, to help us uncover the reasons behind why dogs shake and shiver, and what dog owners can do about it.
Dog Shaking: The Basics
There are two primary causes of trembling in dogs: cold weather and anxiety. Weather is a little easier to wrap our minds around, so let’s start there.
Unsurprisingly, dogs with less fur or hair are more likely to catch a chill when temperatures are low than those with thick, heavy coats. “If you have a dog that doesn’t shed or has no hair, there is no protection from the heat or cold,” Ulbrich says.
If you see your dog shaking and you suspect it’s because they’re cold, Ulbrich recommends gently feeling the inside of their ear. “Don’t stick your finger all the way in their ear—just touch the underside of the ear,” she says. “If that feels cold to the touch, they’re cold.” If that’s the case, you’ll want to get them inside quickly or help them put on some warm clothes.
Anxiety is a slightly more complicated issue to diagnose and address. We asked Ulbrich for her take on dog’s shaking in response to anxiety.
“Shaking to release tension is common with dogs with anxiety, and it starts coming down to how well you know your dog,” Ulbrich says. “When it’s nervousness, the shaking is usually continuous—it doesn’t stop. That’s my experience from dealing with thousands of dogs.”
If you think your dog is trembling because they’re anxious, pay close attention to the triggers that may be making them nervous. Do they always shake at the dog park? Or does the shivering start when lots of people are around? Maybe they have a hard time around kids? If after paying close attention to your pup’s environment you still can’t identify the triggers, consider seeing a dog behaviorist who can help you get to the root of your dog’s anxiety.
Regardless of what it takes to pinpoint the reasons for your dog’s nervousness, Ulrich urges dog owners to resist coddling their pup. If you give your dog positive reinforcement (like petting or treats) when they shake, that will teach them to continue the behavior because they’re getting a reward for it.
Other Common Reasons for Dog Shaking
Other common causes of shaking in dog’s include:
- Nausea: Dogs can experience nausea from eating something toxic, taking a new medication, or even from a bumpy boat or car ride. They’ll often start shaking in response to nausea. Nausea can be a symptom of serious conditions like liver disease or kidney failure, so keep an eye out for additional symptoms like excessive salivation or vomiting.
- Canine Distemper: This virus is most often contracted by puppies who haven’t yet been vaccinated. Trembling, coughing, eye and nose discharge, and fever are all symptoms of distemper. If you notice these symptoms in your dog, take them to the vet for evaluation. Their immune system will need time to recover and may require antibiotics.
- Generalized Tremor Syndrome (GTS): Also known as white shaker dog syndrome because it was first noticed in white dogs, the cause of GTS is still unknown. Any breed can contract this disease, but symptoms usually start when the dog is young (nine months to two years). GTS can be treated with medication, so take your dog to the vet if you suspect they have GTS.
- Pain & Old Age: Shaking can be an indication of pain, especially in older dogs who tend to have muscle tremors in their hind legs. If you notice consistent shaking in your senior dog, take them to vet for an evaluation to ensure that they’re not suffering.
- Seizure Disorders: Just like people, dogs are susceptible to neurological disorders like epilepsy. In addition to shaking, you may notice your dog foaming at the mouth, collapsing, or biting their tongue. Epilepsy in dogs can be treated with medication, so get them to the vet as soon as you notice these symptoms.
- Excitement: Hopefully this is the cause of your dog’s tremors because it’s not related to a medical condition. Shaking and barking with excitement when someone walks through the front door is common in younger dogs. You can reduce your dog’s overexcitement by asking people to enter your home quietly and pay little attention to the dog until they calm down.
- Need to go potty: A well-trained dog knows they can’t go potty in the house and may get the shakes because they’re worried about how to get outside to relieve themselves. “They know they can’t potty inside but they’re stressed not knowing how to get outside or how to indicate it, so they start shaking,” Ulbrich explains. “It’s an emotional upset, then a physical upset, and it gets to ‘what do I do?'”
Occasional dog shaking is a normal fact of life, but sometimes those shivers are significant. If the trembling isn’t accompanied by other symptoms, trying to address less serious potential causes, like being cold or needing to go potty, is a good first step. If your dog’s shivering continues, it’s time to take them to the vet to rule out any serious medical issues.