Thursday, April 16, 2015

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Shaking/Trembling

I was not going to write about this. I figured it was obvious and didn't think that shaking or trembling would need to be pointed out as a potentially serious symptom. But on my Facebook group I come across enough posts where either dog owners or even vets didn’t seem to find it worrisome enough, even when other symptoms were present.

It's true that many small breed dogs shake at the drop of a hat.

Daughter's Chi shakes even when she gets excited to see somebody. She'll shake when she's anxious or scared, or when she's cold (and she does get cold easily).

Make no mistake, being too cold can be just as dangerous as being too hot.

To complicate things further, when a dog gets very cold, the shaking eventually stops. But that’s not a good thing. It’s a sign that the dog’s normal warming mechanisms are shutting down.

If your dog has been out in wet, cold, and/or windy conditions and becomes lethargic, unresponsive, stiff, and/or uncoordinated, they  are in trouble and need to get someplace warm and receive medical attention right away.

If you're outside with your dog on a cold day, do watch them carefully. 

How much cold a dog can tolerate depends on their size, breed, coat, age, health, what they're used to, and even individual constitution. JD has less tolerance to cold than Cookie does even though he's bigger. He even has less cold tolerance than Jasmine did and she was quite a bit older. So even though they are the same breed, about the same size and both have had the same opportunity to adjust to weather changes, we have to make allowances for the difference.

One thing to remember is that when it's damp, raining and windy it doesn't even have to be that cold for your dog to develop hypothermia.

With small or anxious  dogs, things get trickier.

Since some small dogs seem to shake for any ol' reason, how can you tell when to worry?

Personally, unless my dog was shaking from excitement or anticipation, I'd worry. Even though anxiety or fear is not likely to kill your dog on the spot, ongoing or frequent stress will have a negative impact on their health. Plus I simply wouldn't want my dog in situations that stress them out that much.

Furthermore, small dogs (especially small breed puppies) are more prone to hypoglycemia, which is low blood sugar. Lethargy and uncontrollable shaking are the signs to watch for. Untreated, hypoglycemia can lead to seizures and even death.

To me, shaking or trembling is a sign of high distress.

Shaking or trembling can also be a sign of pain, injury, poisoning, kidney disease ... almost anything that makes a dog feel bad. Particularly when other symptoms are present, do not wait to see a vet. Breaks my heart to read online questions such as, "my dog has been vomiting all day, has diarrhea and it's trembling, what can I do to help him at home?"

Breaks my heart even more when somebody's dog "has been really quiet and weird, trembles and shakes, not eating and barely drinking, barely active, hiding ...took him to the vet twice this week ... vet told me to monitor him since it doesn't seem like an emergency since he's not vomiting or having diarrhea."

If my dog was shaking or trembling, with or without any other worrisome symptoms, I'd want a definite answer and a plan to help them.

Unless they were just that excited to see me. Any reason other than that calls for an intervention to make them feel better.

Some scary reasons behind shaking/trembling?
  • pain
  • hypoglycemia
  • poisoning
  • kidney failure
  • inflammatory brain diseases or seizure disorders
  • Addisonian crisis
  • Distemper
  • neurologic disorder
  • neuromuscular diseases (e.g. myasthenia gravis)
  • liver disease leading to hepatic encephalopathy

If your dog was shaking/trembling, what would you assume? What would you do?

Further reading:
Dog Shivering and Trembling: Causes and Treatments
Why Is My Dog Shaking?

Related articles:
Veterinarians Answer: 10 Main Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog 
Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial 
When Is It An Emergency? 
Don't Panic, Don't Panic: Know What Your Job Is   

Excessive Panting
Excessive Drinking 
Changes in Urination/Urinary Accidents 
Changes in Behavior
Bad Odor 
Excessive Drooling  
What Can Your Dog's Gums And Tongue Tell You? 
Excessive Head Shaking  
What Is That Limp? 
Nose Bleeds (Epistaxis)
Unexplained Weight Loss
Loss Of Appetite  
Fever (Pyrexia)
What Happens in a Dog's Body with Severe Vomiting?
Gastroenteritis is when ...  

Whats In The Urine? (Part I: What You Can Notice On Your Own)
What's In The Urine? (Part II: Urinalysis)
A Tale of Many Tails—and What Came Out From Underneath Stories from My Diary-rrhea (part I)
Acute Small Intestinal Diarrhea
Acute Large Intestinal Diarrhea (Acute Colitis)
Chronic Large Intestinal Diarrhea
Chronic Small Intestinal Diarrhea


  1. Good post - I agree with you, I'd be at the vets if my dog was acting like that. I've had only one dog that shook and it was Becca in the midst of her chemo treatment. I knew it was from the treatment which we quickly stopped because she got so sick. I bundled her up in blankets and heating pads. Poor baby...

    1. So sorry she had a bad reaction.

      Yes, I find it amazing that so many people don't go to the vet right away when their dog trembles.