Why Dogs Shake and Shiver

Many dogs shake and tremble, and as an owner it can be difficult to know why it is happening. Often the causes are of no concern, but, as you will see, some shivering definitely warrants a visit to the vet.

1. Cold weather

Just like people, if a dog is cold (“hypothermic”) the body responds by shivering. These involuntary muscle spasms are a way of increasing the core body temperature. Lean breads with short coats are particularly prone to feeling the cold – Greyhounds, Dobermans, Whippets, Chihuahuas and so on. If you suspect your pup is shivering due to cold weather, consider bringing him or her inside to a warm environment. Heat packs and warm water bottles will help. If the weather is persistently cold where you live, consider a doggy vest or jumper. See some of our favourites below!

2. Small breeds

Some small breed dogs just shiver. Research has not been able to determine exactly why, but thankfully it’s generally nothing to worry about. Anxiety is likely a contributing factor – every vet has seen a small breed dog tremble when they get nervous during a health check. Some small breeds with lower muscle mass are also prone to getting cold (see above).

3. Underlying disease

If the shivering comes on suddenly, and you have never observed it before, it might be a sign of neurological disease (involving the brain or spinal cord). Uncontrolled trembling that occurs in fits or episodes is likely seizure activity or epilepsy. However, diseases of other organs, such as the liver and kidneys, can also cause shaking. If you are concerned that your dog is unwell, seek urgent veterinary attention.

4. Toxins

We all know dogs can get into things they shouldn’t. A number of products and foods can cause generalised trembling in dogs (termed “neuroexcitation”). Some common ones include:

· Snail bait

· Insecticides

· Chocolate

· Coffee

· Compost or rubbish (fungal toxins do this)

· Cane toads in certain parts of Australia

If you suspect your dog has eaten any of the above, you should contact your veterinarian, who can advise you what needs doing.

5. Pain/weakness

Chronic pain and weakness can both cause mild trembling in dogs. The most common issue here is arthritis in old dogs. As dogs get sore in their legs, they use them less and less; this leads to the muscles weakening and then trembling when they do need to be used. See our article on managing arthritis for some tips on how to make your dog more comfortable!

Getting to know how your dog normally looks and behaves is very important. It also helps to know what is normal for your dog’s breed – for example, a Chihuahua that shivers a lot is very different to a Labrador that shivers a lot! Ensure that your dog is up to date with vaccinations, as some preventable viral diseases can cause trembling, and don’t hesitate to contact a veterinarian if you are concerned.